Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Decent homes for all

With Cllr Jay Kramer outside one of the empty homes subject to a CPO
Sometimes even I will admit council committee meetings could be more interesting! Some reports we discuss are necessary but perhaps not action-packed. Not so the October cabinet meeting – it was one proactive decision after another, each of which will make a real difference to people in the town.

At the annual council meeting back in May I announced we were developing a housing action plan – the October cabinet meeting approved the details. It involves the council getting stuck in to enforcing better housing conditions in privately rented properties, especially houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).And it involves innovative ways of bringing in money for housing renewal now that the government grants w e used to get have been stopped.

The town has a very high proportion of bedsit/flats, or houses in multiple occupation - four times the national average.

Living conditions in them are often well below standard, so the action plan includes an additional licensing scheme to help tackle these problems and provide greater protection for tenants. It will mean all HMOs will have to be licensed and they will have to meet standards set by the council for housing conditions and for management of the property.

The cabinet meeting confirmed our partnership with Local Space housing association, who are looking to invest £3.5m in Central St Leonards buying up some of the poor quality HMOs and improving and renovating them.

It also agreed to compulsorily purchase 14 long-term empty properties – double the number we successfully targeted back in December. Of the ones we agreed to take over then nearly all are being brought back into positive use by the owners – the compulsory purchase threat clearly concentrated the mind.

We also decided to compulsorily purchase the Malvern pub which has been a blot on the area for too long. Amicus Horizon housing association are looking to redevelop the parade of shops and flats next door so demolishing the pub and landscaping the site could transform the appearance of that corner of Broomgrove estate.

Then the cabinet approved a scheme where the council will act as guarantor for deposits for first-time buyers. Currently they are being asked to stomp up 25% of the mortgage as a deposit. We will act as guarantor for 20% so the buyer will get a 95% mortgage on the same terms as a 75% one. We are looking to support perhaps 50 buyers and that may mean freeing up rented accommodation for others.

All in all that was a pretty busy night.