10. Objective 4 - Addressing the high cost of housing, improving housing conditions, and reducing homelessness
As highlighted above, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) identifies high housing costs as a key cause of poverty and housing problems and homelessness as potential effects of poverty. We recognise this locally as a factor influencing poverty levels.
This Strategy does not seek to replace the East Devon Housing Strategy and related plans, which sets out the Council’s approach to broader housing issues. Instead this section, highlights some of the housing issues facing people in poverty in East Devon, and some of the actions that are being taken to address these issues.
Addressing the high cost of housing
The JRF states that: “The high cost of housing and childcare in many parts of the UK creates the biggest squeeze on people in poverty…. Increasing the supply of genuinely affordable housing to bring down costs across tenures has become central to solving poverty in much of the UK.”
While strong economic growth in East Devon has brought investment into the area and created employment, it has also led to an in-migration of highly skilled workers and high demand for houses, leading to high housing costs.
Housing is particularly unaffordable for people on lower incomes in East Devon. For many people on low incomes in the city, owning their own home is unachievable. Renting accommodation in the private sector has also become less affordable for lower income households, with lower quartile monthly private rents in the district increasing significantly typically £175 per week in 2019.
Renting privately is particularly difficult for people who are claiming benefits. There has been a significant gap between Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates (which determine the level of Housing Benefit entitlements for private rented housing and the housing element of Universal Credit) in East Devon and private rents in the district. This is because the Local Housing Allowance rate is based on a Broad Rental Market Area (BRMA) which includes places where rents are much lower than in East Devon.
This gap has reduced as a result of special measures introduced during the coronavirus pandemic, but we will continue to lobby government to seek alignment of the BRMA with actual rents in the city on a permanent basis.
Actions for 2021-onwards
Part of the solution to high housing costs is to increase the supply of housing, particularly affordable housing, to meet the high levels of demand in East Devon. The majority of new affordable homes will come from private developments. The Council has set requirements in the current Local Plan for the proportion of affordable homes that must be delivered as part of new developments, including a requirement for 40% of homes on sites of 10 or more dwellings to be affordable (of which 75% should be social housing). In 2019/20 a total of 356 new affordable homes were delivered, and it is anticipated that more will be delivered through future developments.
The Council owns and manages over 4,200 homes in East Devon and we are committed to building new council homes which are affordable to those on low incomes. The Council has an ambitious programme to deliver at least 100 new council homes over 5 years subject to funding being available.
Improving housing conditions
While delivering new affordable housing is a priority in East Devon, the majority of residents will continue to live in currently existing homes, some of which are in poor condition. Due to a combination of low incomes, high energy costs and poor energy efficiency of homes, many low income residents struggle to pay their utility bills. A significant number of households in East Devon are in fuel poverty.
Actions for 2021-onwards
The Council has made significant investments in maintaining our homes to a good standard and making them more energy efficient. The Council will invest a further £5 million from 2020-2023 in improving the energy efficiency of Council-owned homes with the lowest energy efficiency ratings. We will also identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption as part of the development of new Council affordable housing schemes.
The Council will also support residents on low incomes by:
- Supporting private tenants in their homes, taking enforcement action against landlords / property managers whose properties do not meet the required energy efficiency standards.
- Ensuring Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are licensed where required and proactively take enforcement against landlords or property managers that are not complying.
- Working with partner agencies and community groups to develop sustainable networks to support residents in fuel or water poverty to reduce their energy and water costs.
The number of homeless people, and those threatened with homelessness, approaching the Council for assistance has significantly increased over the last five years. The Council’s Homelessness Review identifies a number of key causes of homelessness:
- Homelessness due to a lack of appropriate accommodation.
- Breakdown of personal and family relationships. Our data shows that three of the four most common reasons for homelessness are: being asked to leave by family or friends; family breakdown; and domestic abuse.
- Financial difficulties. Loss of a private sector tenancy is the second highest reason for homelessness, with some people losing privately-rented tenancies because they are unable to meet rental costs due to debt, cuts in welfare funding and low Local Housing Allowance rates.
Particular groups of people are more at risk of becoming homeless, including single person households, people with mental health problems, and ex-offenders being discharged from prison.
As part of its mainstream work to address homelessness the Council:
- Provides a housing advice service, which provided advice to 600+ households in 2019/20 on a range of housing concerns including homelessness.
- Carries out work to prevent homelessness, or relieve homelessness where it cannot be prevented or has already occurred. Over 250 households were successfully prevented from homelessness or relieved from homelessness in 2019/20.
- Funds a network of prevention, relief and support activity delivered by partner organisations through a combination of contracts and annual grant funding.
- Secures private rented housing for single homeless people, the Council’s Rent Deposit Scheme.
Preventing and tackling homelessness requires a co-ordinated and strategic response, and the Council works in partnership with a wide range of statutory and voluntary agencies. The Council has a Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Strategy, which sets out in detail our plans to prevent and manage homelessness in the district.
The numbers of rough sleepers in East Devon has fluctuated in recent years. The number of rough sleepers counted in the district during the course of a year increased from 3 in 2015/16 to 12 in 2019/20.
Rough-sleeping is a complex issue, and people find themselves sleeping rough as a result of a variety of personal factors. However, evidence from local counts of rough sleepers shows that people are much more likely to end up on the street if they have mental health problems or alcohol or substance misuse issues. Street homelessness also disproportionately affects men, people who have suffered trauma, people who have been in some kind of institutional care or organisation and people who have little by way of financial or social capital.
Actions for 2021- onwards
- Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy – A key focus of the proposed new strategy will be measures to increase access to private sector tenancies for homeless people. This will enable people to progress more quickly along the pathway from sleeping rough, to overnight shelters, to short-term hostel accommodation and into rented accommodation.
- Promoting Housing Benefit Plus – The gap between private rents and the Local Housing Allowance makes it difficult for homeless people to meet private rental costs. The Housing Benefit Plus scheme provides a supplement to Housing Benefit (1 year for single people up to £133pcm, 2 years for families up to £200pcm) to bridge the gap. This is accompanied by employment and income maximisation advice, which helps people to increase their incomes to the point where they are able to meet private rents on an ongoing basis.
- Housing First – the Council is piloting the Housing First approach to help people to come off the streets. Experience shows that hostel accommodation is not suitable for some rough sleepers with complex needs, who often end up sleeping rough again. Housing First involves providing a secure self-contained home, together with personalised support, for rough sleepers with multiple and complex needs. Providing a home first can provide a stable platform from which other issues can be addressed and can lead to better outcomes as a result.