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Housing Crisis Update Report Outlines Steps Taken To Address Local Housing Issues

Two months after declaring a housing crisis, South Hams District Council is reviewing what has been achieved so far to help address the situation.

Houses Totnes

Several update reports will to be discussed by Full Council on 25 November 2021 and the Executive Committee on 2 December. These reports focus on three key areas for local housing:

  • A review of the Council's strategy for homelessness and proposed public consultation.
  • A plan to purchase five properties that can be used to provide essential emergency housing in our area.
  • The recommendation for approval of a £4.2million scheme to provide much needed affordable homes in St Anns Chapel and further review the delivery of new housing projects.

In September, the Council adopted a new long-term corporate strategy that put housing at its heart - Better Lives for All. This strategy, combined with a review of the Council's current Homelessness Strategy has identified four key areas of housing need in the district:

  • Single Households
  • Families
  • Households with additional needs
  • Rough Sleepers

At a meeting on 2 December, the Executive Committee will be asked to approve plans to develop a new Homelessness strategy. This will replace the current strategy which expires in April 2022. A public consultation and close discussions with key local stakeholders is proposed for early 2022. The results of the consultation will help shape the priorities for tackling homelessness over the coming five years.  

As part of the report on homelessness, Councillors will also debate plans to purchase five properties that will be used to offer emergency accommodation. This will ensure that the most vulnerable local people and families have better access to safe, comfortable housing. The purchase would be part-funded with a grant from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities following the Council's successful bid under the Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme. In the longer-term, the purchase will also reduce costs associated with providing emergency accommodation. The plans are to purchase four one-bedroom properties as well as an additional family-size property. 

The local shortage of rented accommodation at costs that residents can realistically afford is one of the main reasons a housing crisis was declared in the South Hams. This shortage is most keenly felt in coastal areas where many properties have been switched from long-term lets to more financially lucrative holiday lets. In the Full Council meeting on 25 November, Councillors will review plans for a £4.2million housing scheme in St Anns Chapel, near Bigbury, which could help to address this shortage. If agreed, the St Anns Chapel scheme could deliver up to eight homes to be rented to local people at a cost below the open market rate. These new homes could be available by late 2023.

Finally, a report going to the Executive Committee on 2 December sets out the findings of a review of governance arrangements for the delivery of new housing projects in the district. It acknowledges the Council's approach to delivering good quality, low cost affordable new homes for local people was ambitious in scale and puts forward recommendations for improving how a programme of this scale is managed in future.

When schemes have proved unviable and not progressed beyond the design and planning stage, there has naturally been disappointment.  Over the last four years, £167,000 (about 9% of current programme costs) has been spent on schemes that will unfortunately not progress to construction. The remaining 91% of funding is either committed to or will be committed to the delivery of affordable homes.

Councillors will assess the changes already made to governance arrangements. They will also examine the recommended additional steps to be taken to ensure remaining projects are delivered effectively. 

Cllr Judy Pearce, South Hams District Council Executive Member for Housing said: "We've declared a housing crisis but now we need to put our words into action and take positive steps so that something is done about it. The St Anns Chapel scheme is a great example of this. We know AirBnB and rising property costs have slashed the number of properties available to rent and pushed up rental prices. Here we have the opportunity to take direct action to build new properties local people can afford. We know we need more, but this is a positive step forward.  I hope this will bring some relief to those people out there who are finding it so hard to find a suitable home in their local area.

"Whilst this is great news, we also need to acknowledge our plans to provide more homes for local people do not always run smoothly. It is always disappointing when after considerable effort and cost, schemes do not progress. However, due to the complex mix of elements involved in delivering such schemes, including planning, construction and community need, sometimes this is unfortunately the outcome. Smaller rural schemes cost more to build than larger developments, but the homes must be at a cost people can afford. If that balance can't be achieved, a scheme becomes unviable and won't progress. Our governance review takes a practical approach to make sure we manage these projects and people's expectations more effectively moving forward. 

"Helping our most vulnerable neighbours is also a major priority for us as a Council. I hope that our plans to provide additional safe and comfortable emergency housing will allow us to do even more to support people to get back on track and escape from the trap of homelessness. 

"We know there is still so much to be done, but we're determined to put the resources and facilities in place that will make a difference. We know the cost of housing is of huge concern to many residents and we are committed to taking action now to find as many solutions as possible to solve this huge problem."

The Full Council meeting starts 11 a.m. on Thursday 25 November 2021. The Executive Committee meeting starts at 10 a.m. on Thursday 2 December 2021. You can watch both meetings here: South Hams District Council YouTube Channel

Issued 24 November 2021

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