Ray Dawe: Providing housing service our residents need

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‘Affordable’ is one of those words that means different things to different people, especially when it comes to housing.

Essentially, ‘affordable homes’ are provided for those people who simply cannot afford to buy a home on the open market and for who market rents are prohibitively high.

In our district, these homes are generally built and managed by housing associations, and both affordable flats and houses are let at lower than market rents or purchased under shared ownership schemes.

We were one of the first local authorities to take a long hard look at which people we had a duty to house and who on our register really needed housing.

In April 2013 Horsham District Council took the decision to house those households with local connections and a verifiable housing need, and those we have a duty to help into a settled home. Many previously on the register had no local connection to our district.

The district council is committed to meeting the housing needs of local people and in spite of considerable economic pressures, we have seen an increase in affordable homes built year on year, with 239 homes completed by March 2014 – a record for the council.

During the current financial year over 250 new affordable homes will be delivered - this is about a third of the total number of all houses built.

It’s not just homes to buy that we need – the private rented sector, although growing, at only around nine per cent of the district’s total housing stock, is much lower than the current national average of 36 per cent.

Consequently, rents in the district are comparatively high and competition for properties is great. That means we need to see more homes for people to rent in the district.

We also work hard to keep people in their homes when the going gets tough – from April last year to the end of December our housing officers worked with 127 households to keep them in their homes and stop them being made homeless.

When people in our district are made homeless, the best option is to accommodate them in short stay temporary homes.

The council owns a number of these and we’ve increased our stock from 43 to 64 homes in the past three years, with plans to acquire more.

Sadly, there are occasions when people need emergency accommodation, and then all the council can do is offer them overnight bed and breakfast.

Obviously, this is far from ideal, and by working with individuals and families, and their landlords, at the end of last year we saw the lowest number of households in bed and breakfast since June 2011 – just 12.

Government policies and initiatives on housing have come thick and fast and although we published our Affordable Housing Strategy in 2013, we also need to keep up to date and adapt quickly to any changes introduced.

Our aim is to provide the housing service our residents need – I believe we are on track.