What I want to see in the parties’ manifestos

The political parties are yet to publish their manifestos for the June general election. I have three simple requests to all parties for policies to be included in those manifestos:

  1. Make a commitment to building council houses, in massive numbers, as an investment for current and future generations. Abolish the Right to Buy so that these homes remain in public ownership in order that they continue, in perpetuity, to meet housing need, and not investment opportunities.
  2. Make an unequivocal commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2017-2022 parliament. In a country as wealthy as the United Kingdom, it is an outrage that people are living on the streets, and their presence should shame those in a position to end rough sleeping.
  3. Put an end to benefit cuts. More than half of all voters think that benefit cuts have gone too far, according to an Ipsos Mori poll published on Thursday. Denying 18 to 21 year olds the right to claim benefit support to help towards their rents will drive young people into homelessness, into crime, and into sex work. What politician wants that as part of their legacy?

Excitement builds for that big day in June. Have you decided yet which way you will go?

The starting gun has been fired, and we are focusing on that big day in June. Such days are when the people can make the difference.

I refer, of course, to the BHT Around the World Cycle Challenge, our epic mass-participation challenge to cycle ‘around the world’ in just 12 hours!

On Sunday 25th June adults and children will take to their bikes at Preston Park Velodrome to cycle laps towards a collective distance of 40,075km.

With cyclists setting their own pace and completing as few or as many laps as they wish, this is an exciting, family-friendly challenge for all abilities.

It is hoped that this unique event will raise £25,000, to enable First Base Day Centre to continue to help people to move away from the streets, and on to independent and healthy lives.

Every penny raised will go towards providing food, health services, showers and laundry facilities, and most importantly person-centred advice to help find accommodation and employment. Last year First Base Day Centre helped 306 people to move off the streets.

We are appealing to the whole community to come along and get pedalling! We need as many cyclists to participate as possible if we are to reach 40,075km in just 12 hours. Why not form a team with your family, friends or colleagues, and have a really great time getting fit whilst also supporting an important local cause?

There is even an option to take part from afar. My colleague, Sara Peskett, BHT’s Fundraising Officer, said: “If you’re not able to join us at the velodrome on the day you can take part on an exercise bike at home or at a gym, or even hop on your bike elsewhere. All you need to do is register to take part and then email or tweet us your distance on the day to be added to the overall total. Be a part of this never-before-attempted challenge!”

To register for Around the World Cycle 2017 please visit www.bht.org.uk. Alternatively, donations can be made through Brighton Housing Trust’s JustGiving page.

This event has been made possible with sponsorship from socially and ethically-aware businesses, including Kemp Town Flooring Co., Robert Heath Heating and Groundscapes. If you own a business and would like to support the challenge please see our website.

BHT is recruiting for a Director of Finance and Resources

One of the most important colleagues for any chief executive is that of the Director of Finance. For me it has to be someone who I can rely on and who has great judgement.  As with any charity, we have our challenges, and the Director of Finance must have a calm head on their shoulders.  Fortunately, crises in BHT are few and far between, but there are challenges regarding the furture direction of BHT to 2022 and beyond.

At BHT the post is called the Director of Finance and Resources and is one of four in the executive management team, working as a close team with Nikki Homewood (our Director of Advice and Support Services), David Chaffey (Director of Housing and Property Services) and me.

The role is currently filled on an interim basis by Les Warren and we are looking to recruit a Director who will take a lead on financial strategy, risk management, operational and financial performance. The Director is responsible for optimising the organisations financial position, value for money and providing constructive challenge and advice to income generation and sustainable growth strategies. They oversee and direct the effective implementation of the Trust’s IT strategy, act as company secretary and be responsible for much of the organisations central resources.

I am looking for someone with vision and an ability to deliver services of excellence, and I will give them support and space to influence the future of the organisation.

This is an exciting post. If you have the passion, are self-motivated, collaborative and a team player, and if you are as ambitious as we are, we want to hear from you. Further information is available here. You must hurry.  The closing date for applications is next Monday (24th April).

Private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s, says the Chartered Institute of Housing

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) recently carried out research into the gap between rents in the private rented sector and what Local Housing Allowance (LHA) will pay.

LHA is based on the 30th centile of the range rents charged in the private rented sector. Except it isn’t. That was how it was supposed to be (having previously been reduced from there 50th centile). In fact, the level of payment has been frozen for three years and will be frozen until 2019/20. LHA no longer reflects in any way the reality of rents in a locality.

In Brighton and Hove the rates are £82.66 for a room in a shared house, £153.02 for a one bed flat, £192.48 for a two bed property. The average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is now £971 per month compared to LHA of £612.08 for the same period.

In Eastbourne the rates are £67.00, £116.53 and £151.50, and in Hastings £69.77, £92.06 and £120.29. (There are higher rates for 3 and 4 properties).

It is worse for you if you are under 35 where you are restricted to claiming LHA for just a room in a shared house.

And if you think it is bad for under 35s, it is EVEN worse for those under 21 for whom the rate is zero (unless you are ‘lucky’ enough to qualify for one of several exemptions – merely being a rough sleeper is not enough).

So what has the CIH found? It has found that the gap between LHA and rents has widened to the point where private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the senior civil servant responsible for housing policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, Darrell Smith, said that the government is now going to use LHA rates to set new, lower rents for specialist supported housing. Why? Because it is such a good barometer for the market? No. He said: “The one advantage of (LHA rates) is that they are already there, so it doesn’t cost the government anything to set it up. I know”, he continued, “that isn’t a great answer but that’s all I have got”.

Rod Liddle thinks it’s ok to laugh at those addicted to Spice. I don’t

Last Sunday (9th April 2017), the journalist Rod Liddle had an item in the Sunday Times in which he said pictures of people incapacitated as a result of synthetic cannabinoids were, for him, a “source of amusement”.  I was angry and upset by what he wrote.  Here is the text of the letter I sent which was not published in today’s paper (16th April 2017).

What a sad little item by Rod Liddle regarding synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice. He describes as a “source of amusement” photos of distressed and incapacitated people – “zombified imbecilles” as he calls them.

Your sister paper, The Times, reported the very next day the death of a homeless man in his thirties in Birmingham who had been smoking a synthetic cannabinoid. I don’t find that a “source of amusement”.

At Brighton Housing Trust we see, on a daily basis, the shocking damage done to people, from temporary incapacitation, through extreme mental and physical harm, to death due to synthetic cannabinoids. I don’t find that a “source of amusement”.

I don’t find the sight of a paranoid and terrified youth, and his distressed mother, as she drops him off at our rehab, a “source of amusement”.

Making so-called ‘legal highs’ illegal was a great move by government. We have seen a huge decrease in their use as a result, and society and the individuals adversely affected, becoming a little bit more healthy.

Perhaps Rod Liddle might not find it a source of amusement if someone he loves and cares for was at risk of severe, long term damage and even death due to smoking synthetic cannabinoids. He might become grateful that there are people working in drug rehabs up and down the country helping people to overcome their addictions to synthetic cannabinoid, alcohol and other drugs.

Overly strict enforcement of regulations can lead to homelessness

This is the text of a letter I had published in today’s Brighton Argus (14th April 2017) in response to, and in support of, a letter from Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association who warned that the uncritical enforcement of regulations would result in an increase in rough sleeping

When someone speaks who has as much housing experience as Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association, we would be wise to listen. Few individuals have such in-depth knowledge, and he is one of the few landlords who will still accommodate people on the lowest incomes.

In his letter of 13th April 2017 he warns that a consequence of the enforcement of regulations relating to houses in multiple occupation will lead to more people becoming street homeless. We should all sit up and listen.

Regardless of what one might think of housing being provided through private landlords, the reality is that almost four times as many homes are let in this way compared to those provided by the City Council and housing associations. With spiralling house prices, fewer local people will be able to buy in the years ahead. We must work with private landlords to make sure housing need in the city is being met.

At the same time, Cllr Tracey Hill is attempting to ensure that family homes for rent are not lost. She rightly wants to avoid whole areas becoming blighted by studentification with small family homes being turned into accommodation for six or seven students.

Her efforts in this regard are to be applauded and should be seen as a challenge to our two universities where not enough accommodation is provided to houses the ever-increasing student population in the city. Whether we can reverse what already has happened is unlikely.

If there is an issue of a lack of basic amenities, fire risks and overcrowding, then enforcement action should be taken. Enforcement is right in some cases, but not in cases where there is cooperation by the landlords and where standards are marginally below what we would ideally like.

This week I heard of enforcement action being against a property that has been let as four bedsits since the early 1960s. I don’t know the property myself, but the provision of such accommodation is essential for someone’s housing journey. I myself once rented a property which falls beneath current minimum space requirements, but small though it was, it was my home and I was happy there.

The simplest way to avoid council houses for families being lost and becoming houses in multiple occupation is by ending the Right to Buy, and not extending it even further to housing association homes. One in four, and some studies suggest one in three, former council homes are now in the private rented sector charging rents four times greater than the previous council rents. How many of these homes in Brighton and Hove, are now let to students?

Shared housing is all that is affordable for many, and the only form of accommodation for which those under 35 can claim housing benefit. I am a harsh critic of government housing policy, but while it remains as it is, we need to ensure that there is a balanced provision of homes.

We need to get this right, and the City Council could do worse that having a very early meeting with Mike Stimpson to find a way forward.

Sex-for-accommodation and denying housing benefit to 18-21 year olds

BBC South East has done a great public service by uncovering the sex-for-rent scandal where young people are asked to provide sexual ‘favours’ in return for accommodation. The report on tonight’s programme (13th April) shows the need for a change in the law as this arrangement is not illegal.

Demanding sex for accommodation has not been an uncommon reality for homeless people for many years.

Earlier this month the government withdrew the automatic right of young people aged 18 to 21 to claim housing benefit. While there are some exemptions, up to 11,000 are expected to be affected over the next few years.

That seems like a sensible policy in light of tonight’s exposure ….! What do politicians think young people will do if they can’t get help towards their housing costs?