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Archive for Housing

Riding Roughshod Over Some Else’s Property….

houses2The Conservative Party’s proposal to allow the sell-off of housing association homes has been criticised from the left – and from the right.

Lib Dem Nick Barlow writes on his blog:

Back in 2010, the Tories made a big play of how they would transform the country through localism and the Big Society. Localism would free communities from the dead hand of Whitehall controlling everything, while the Big Society would encourage a new era of civic involvement, getting people involved in community organisations, allowing them to really make a difference.

If the first leaks from their 2015 manifesto are anything to go by, both those ideas have been thrown into the bin, which has then been set on fire and the ashes scattered to the four winds to prevent any prospect of them ever coming back together again. Community-based organisations are to be ripped apart by Government policy, while councils will have to follow diktats from the centre in order to raise the money to fund this dismemberment.
Housing associations are private non-profit organisations, generally run by members of the community they’re based in and providing a valuable service in providing social housing. The proposed Tory policy will declare them to be nothing more than another arm of the state, in order to compel them to sell off their housing at below the market rate. Yes, because we’re not suffering enough problems in the housing market thanks to forcing councils to sell their stock off cheaply, they’ll go on to compound the error by doing the same to housing associations. Remember, these aren’t government-owned organisations, and yet the Tories – the usual champions of property rights – seem to see no problem in riding roughshod over someone else’s in pursuit of their policy.

(Of course, this policy won’t apply to other private landlords, and tenants in the private rented sector won’t get any right to buy their homes no matter how long they’ve lived there. Perhaps if Housing Associations were allowed to donate to the Tories, they’d have been exempted from this policy too?)

Even the most barking policy to sell assets off at below market price has a cost, and in order to fund this, they’ve decided to show how much they’ve decided localism was a bad idea by committing to a true policy of anti-localism…..

Meanwhile in the Daily Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer describes the idea as “dumb, economically illiterate and – even worse – morally wrong.”

…by helping those 1.3 million lucky souls in housing association homes, Mr Cameron won’t do anything to help the many more unlucky ones who aren’t and, indeed, will actually make life that little bit harder for everyone else who wants to share in his property-owning dream.

Selling off social housing at a discount is great for those individual families who benefit, but are these really the families that are most in need of the state’s help?

Why should people who have already enjoyed the benefits of secure tenancies in affordable social housing now be granted extra help worth up to £102,000 (and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of pounds more when they later sell their property) while millions of others get absolutely nothing?
First of all, many of those 1.3 million tenants – the poorest – won’t be in any position to get a mortgage to buy their home, regardless of the generous discounts, while those who are able to take advantage of the scheme are unlikely to be those in the direst need.

Indeed, there are many people living in housing association homes who are not in any need at all and are more than capable of renting in the private sector or buying their own home but are understandably reluctant to relinquish a home with a subsidised rent.
This, then, is a policy which (almost by definition) will help people who are in a better position to help themselves than many others.

It’s all very well rewarding hard work but what about all the many millions of other families who also work hard on low incomes but who are stuck paying sky-high private sector rents? What about their dreams of home ownership?

Some Thoughts After The Review Committee

The District Council’s Review Committee met on Wednesday evening. It’s a bit like a House of Commons Select Committee , it’s there to scrutinise what the council does, and to review things.

The biggest item on Wednesday was to discuss homelessness in our district, and a representative from Rochford Housing Association, plus Cllr Jo Mcpherson (the council’s Portfolio Holder on the subject) were there to answer questions. It was a good meeting where people from 4 political groups worked together. Councillors duly asked lots of questions, though we probably really only scratched the surface, and need to learn more.

What came to mind was that we have , in Jo Mcpherson, a councillor who is really engrossed in her area of responsibility, and wants to communicate with other councillors. We also have councillors who want to learn more. In the ‘good old days’ of the committee system this could happen much more easily. We had a Health and Housing Committee where councillors could learn as they spent years on the committee steadily gaining knowledge….

Another topic was car parking charges. Usage of council car parks has gone up despite the increase in charges last year. Cllr Toby Mountain suggested the council could be a bit more generous now, by for example, stopping charging at 6 pm rather than at 7. Cllr Chris Black backed that and said we could also support traders by adding two more free Saturday mornings to the calendar – the first two Saturdays after Christmas. This would help with the trader’s winter sales. Both these ideas were supported by other members, and we expect some further discussion on this in order to get them agreed by council.

Our Working Adults Still Living With Mum And Dad

There’s some alarming statistics this week from Shelter. To summarise their findings:

  • Almost two million working adults aged between 20 and 34 are living with their parents
  • These are working adults – not students or unemployed
  • Almost half of them say they are still at home because they cannot afford to buy or rent.
  • This map shows how the situation varies around the country
  • Castle Point has the highest percentage in the country – 45 %
  • Rochford has the second highest – 42%
  • clipped wings

    There has rightly been a lot of opposition to the proposed housing “North Of London Road” and in Hullbridge. People are justifiably concerned about infrastructure, especially roads and drainage. South East Essex – Rochford District and Castle Point in particular – seemed to have been poorly treated for decades by the county council regarding highways, and our drainage systems have been neglected. We need to carry on fighting for all the infrastructure we need.. We can certainly argue that the housing is being proposed in the wrong locations. But what we can’t do is say there is no local demand… And perhaps we should focus on getting housing suitable for local young people, rather than more 4 bedroom executive homes.

    Why is the situation so difficult for our young adults adults here? Probably the root cause goes back to the 1950s and 1960s when the population soared. The population actually doubled in the fifties. And then development continued , at a slightly lower rate, in following decades. The end result today is that housing has already spread to the edge of Rayleigh. There are very few ‘easy’ sites left to develop.

    Chart of Rayleigh and Rawreth's  population 1931- 1961

    Chart of Rayleigh and Rawreth’s population 1931- 1961

    Empty Properties And The Council Tax


    There were a few interesting items at last night’s Full District Council Meeting.

    One of them was about the reductions in Council Tax that apply if properties are left empty.

    The government has given councils the freedom to reduce these rebates – so that people concerned have to pay more. This means that councils get more money, and more homes are occupied (which to an extent reduces the need to build new homes). From next April there will be the following changes in Rochford District:

    • Second Homes will no longer get a 10% discount – the full amount will have to be paid instead
    • Vacant properties in need of urgent repair currently get a full 100% discount for the first 12 months – this will be reduced to 50% for 12 months.
    • Empty and unfurnished properties currently have a a full 100 % discount for up to 6 months. This is being reduced to a 100% discount for only one month. This discount will now only apply immediately following a period when the property was occupied for a minimum of 6 weeks. It will also be restricted to a maximum of two awards in any one financial year.
    • Properties that are empty and “substantially unfurnished” for two years or more will now get an extra 50% “premium charge” on top of the normal 100% council tax amount.

    These changes could lead to the district council getting around £195,000 extra council tax per year. Though in reality it is likely to be lower than this because property owners may change their behaviour.

    It would be interesting to know if Southend Borough Council are doing the same thing – because as Julian Ware Lane pointed out here there are certainly plenty of empty properties in Southend.

    Empty Homes In Rochford District

    Michael and Diane Hoy write about empty homes here:

    As she walks around Hullbridge (the Ward she represents) Diane makes a note of all those which appear empty and reports them to the Council.  However she has so far been disappointed in the progress by the council in making those homes available to the public, either to rent or to buy.

    We have obtained the figures for empty homes in the Rochford District.  They are set out below.

    Total no. of empty properties:               1,021
    Properties empty for over 6 months:     575
    Properties empty for over 1 year:            375




    The full article is worth a read, especially with its reference to the core strategy.

    Two Questionnaires !

    The District Council have an online survey on their car parks – you can find it on this page.

    They also have a questionnaire for people seeking affordable housing on the same page.

    [we have amended this page to show usable links]

    House Prices In Our District Are Higher Than In 2007 – One Of Only TWO Places In the UK

    From the BBC website:

    Average house prices have risen in just two local authority areas since the UK’s property boom peaked in 2007, research suggests.
    According to the Halifax bank, the only two areas to increase were Rochford in Essex and South Lakeland in Cumbria.
    Even in the areas that saw an increase, the rises were “marginal” according to the report – 1% in Rochford and 0.1% South Lakeland.

    House price changes

    * Rochford +1% (average £231,595)
    * South Lakeland +0.1% (£212,457)
    * Islington -1% (£470,206)
    * Hart -1% (£326,555)
    * Spelthorne -2% (278,216)
    * Worthing -3% (£216,435)
    * Ceredigion -3% (£177,968)
    * Windsor and Maidenhead -3% (£396,826)
    * Hillingdon -3% (£272,699)
    * Derbyshire Dales -4% (£249,189)
    * Brent -4% (£335,574)

    Source: Halifax, 2007-2011

    BREAKING NEWS: Rochford Housing Application Passed

    The outline application for 600 homes north of Hall Road, Rochford, was passed tonight.

    A more detailed report tomorrow….

    New Housing Allocation Policy

    Ever wondered how the District Council allocates social housing to people?

    There’s a new policy arrangement proposed here – unles it’s ‘called in’ in the next few days, it will come into effect.

    Here’s some lengthy extracts:

    The draft Housing Allocation Policy has been out to consultation with
    Registered Social Landlords, and from the feedback received, minor
    amendments have been incorporated into the final document.
    The Council’s current Housing Allocation Policy requires updating and it is
    now considered to be an opportune time for this to be carried out, as the
    Council is also about to due to implement the new Choice Based Lettings
    scheme in June 2011 and the two schemes / policies are intrinsically linked.
    The current Allocation Policy is based on applicants to the Council’s Housing
    Register being awarded various amounts of points, in relation to meeting a
    range of criteria such as local connection, residency, medical needs, numbers
    in household, inadequacy of present accommodation, time on register etc.
    The new Allocation Policy will be much simpler and more transparent, whilst
    aiming to give applicants an element of choice as to where they live. Once an
    applicant has completed the appropriate application form, if they are eligible,
    they will be placed in one of the five bands, A – E, according to their housing
    need and connection with the district, as detailed in Appendix A.

    The Council does not own any housing stock. All social housing in the district is owned and managed by housing associations, and the Council has agreements with many of these, enabling it to nominate prospective tenants to vacancies that arise.
    There are relatively low levels of social housing in the district and although the Council is continually working with housing associations to provide more accommodation, only a limited number of vacancies arise each year. Priority is therefore given to those applicants with the highest need, who have a local connection with the Rochford District and who do not have the financial resources to meet their housing costs. Consequently many applicants will have no realistic prospect of being nominated in the foreseeable future.

    The majority of applicants will be placed in one of 5 bands, A to E, according to their housing need and their connection with the district. A limited number of these applicants will then be invited to ‘bid’ (express an interest) in a property when it becomes vacant. Nominees will be selected from those who bid. Because of the low number of vacancies, bids are only likely to be invited from applicants in bands A, B or C.

    Applications will be placed in one of five bands from A to E, according to housing need and local connection. Within each band the active date will be the determining factor.
    Band A (Urgent priority)
    • Applicants owed a duty by the Council under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (or section 65(2) or 68(2) of the Housing Act 1985).
    • Applicants occupying insanitary housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions where repairs/improvements are unlikely to be completed in a reasonable period of time.
    • Applicants living in accommodation that is statutorily overcrowded. Care leavers/move on

    Applicants leaving care provided by a Local Authority under the Children Acts (or other statutory duty).

    Applicants ready to move on from schemes the Council had referred them to or where the Council would have a housing duty on leaving.
    Medical or Welfare
    • Applicants awarded an A grade.
    • Applicants suffering persistent harassment, violence or abuse.
    Band B (High priority)
    Threatened Homelessness
    • Applicants who are owed a duty under section 195 (2) of the 1996 Act (priority need and not threatened with homelessness intentionally).
    • Applicants awarded a B grade.
    Need to move
    • Applicants who need to move to a particular locality in the district where failure to meet that need would cause hardship to themselves or others.
    Band C (Moderate priority)
    Other Homelessness
    • Applicants who are homeless (within the meaning of Part 7 of the 1996 Act) including people who are owed a duty by the Council under
    section 190(2) (intentional homelessness), or occupying
    accommodation secured by the Council under section 192(3) (no
    priority need but not intentionally homeless).
    Medical/ Welfare
    • Applicants awarded a C grade. Environmental

    Applicants lacking 1 or more bedrooms (non –statutory overcrowding).

    Applicants occupying insanitary housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions where repairs/improvements are likely to be completed in a reasonable period of time.
    Sharing/lacking facilities
    • Applicants sharing facilities with persons other than the applicant’s household.
    Band D (low priority)
    • Applicants with a housing need but no local connection.
    Band E (no priority)

    Applicants with no housing need.

    Applicants who have sufficient financial resources to resolve their housing situation.

    Existing social tenants living in the district who do not have any housing need but wish to either down-size or move to another part of the district will be placed on a separate list, providing the Council has nomination rights to the resulting vacancy in the event of a move. Applications will be placed in the following order of priority.
    1) number of bedrooms given up;
    2) moving from general needs housing to older persons housing or sheltered accommodation;
    3) moving to a similar size property.
    Where applicants have equal priority, the active date will be the determining factor.
    Existing social tenants with a housing need will be placed in one of the five bands referred to above.

    Michael Hoy’s Enhanced Role

    Green party Councillor Michael Hoy has made a definite impact in his first 12 months. So we were pleased to see him volunteer to join the board of the Rochford Housing Association.

    He’ll be very useful in that role. And credit to the Conservatives for letting him go on the board.

    Flats and Shops Update

    We were asked last week about the front of the Asda site in Rawreth Lane Rayleigh. We have had the following update from an officer at the District Council:

    “The recent signage announcing the new development relates to the mixed use building comprising three commercial units at ground floor with 23 affordable flats that was granted permission at the meeting of 25th February 2010 under application reference 10/00021/FUL. It is the scheme that incorporates a roof garden but with the more domestic design that members considered better.”

    We understand that the partners Sanctuary are keen to show their involvement. The development is due to commence shortly so the signage has gone up…

    When the scheme was passed last year we wrote on onlinefocus:

    The latest application was for 3 commercial units and 23 affordable flats in a more traditional, attractive design that we thought fitted in much better with Rawreth Lane. They provided extra garden space by having roof gardens.
    Ron and Chris had the chance to meet with Coral and a council officer soon after the application went in, to get a better understanding of the scheme and suggest some improvements. For example:
    # There is a condition that ‘no amplified speech or music shall be broadcast on the open areas of the site.
    # There is an extra planting area / barrier at the northern end of the roof garden to prevent easy overlooking onto Rawreth Lane.
    # The height of the stairwells on the roof has been reduced.
    # There is a condition to prevent the three small commercial units from being converted into one big takeaway
    Under the planning rules, Chris and Ron couldn’t confer in advance of the meeting. But we came to similar conclusions:
    # disappointment that we haven’t got a building of more benefit to the general community
    # a feeling that the latest building was more attractive to look at and offered a better quality of life for those living there
    # some uncertainty as how the roof gardens will work out in practice
    # a feeling that this was the best we could get here!

    To Finish 2010 On A Positive Note….

    … a new press release from the Rochford Housing Association:

    A family from Rayleigh, Essex, is celebrating the festive season in a newly-renovated home thanks to Rochford Housing Association.
    Thanks to the association’s aids and adaptations scheme, the Holyland family home has benefitted from a new, purpose-built extension. This will enable the family to provide the best possible care for their wheelchair-bound son, Harrison, who suffers from a rare degenerative condition, Emanuel Syndrome.
    The work included an extension to the side and rear of the property to accommodate a ground-floor bedroom and wet room for Harrison. The home’s kitchen and family room were also improved, with ramps and widened door frames added to allow easy access for Harrison’s wheelchair.
    Improvements began in June and were completed in October so that the Holylands could move back into their new home in time for Christmas.
    Mum, Miss Tracy Holyland, said: “Our new extension has made life for all of us much easier. We now don’t have to carry Harrison up and down the stairs and we have the space to spend time together as a family and offer him more independence.”

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    There's lots of information on the District Council website about the planning application "North of London Road ". To see it , just click here.

    The Core Strategy

    This is the official master document for planning policy in our district! To download it, click here click here. (2.5mb)

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    If you want information on a particular planning application, you can find it on the District Council website here.

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    There's also an independent website called FixMyStreet. It's very good for reporting minor street problems like holes in the road, grafitti or failed streetlights. You can find FixMyStreet here.

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