Houses fit for… people.

07 Jan

This post was originally published at the Subrosa blog and is reproduced here with permissions.

Last week Subrosa had post on the subject of housing and council housing in particular. I left a comment but this is a subject dear to my heart. I’ve had an involvement with Councils and their Housing Departments and with Housing Associations all over Scotland for more than twenty years. I am a huge supporter of public and housing provision, I lived in a SSHA house and then a council house for the first twenty years of my life. My first flat was financed by a mortgage provided by the local authority.

The credit crunch has caused severe hardship for a lot of people. The biggest disaster of course is that it is hugely more difficult to get a mortgage and even harder to get a first time mortgage when you are young. The level of deposit is out of the reach of the vast majority of first time buyers in particular. That being the case, they either remain at home or rent a flat or house from a private landlord, housing association or local council. The private landlord option is usually the most likely given that housing associations and the councils operate needs based points system and they consequently have long waiting lists.

Subrosas blog last week dealt with the sale of council houses which has recently been withdrawn for new council houses and new tenants. This has obviously reduced the number of houses available and has also reduced the overall quality of the stock given the best ones have been sold. The number of houses being reduced obviously means it’s harder to get a house. There are other reasons also.

The Scottish Housing Regulator works with Housing Associations to ensure they meet specific quality targets. Funding is also be provided from the Scottish Government to ensure that the Scottish Housing Quality Standard is met by 2015. This will ensure that all housing association properties have central heating, double-glazing, fitted kitchens and bathrooms. There are also environmental targets, which must be met which determine how energy efficient the houses are which is great news since it reduces energy bills.

Councils have also been asked to bid for funding which they can use to build new houses. There are new council houses being built all over Scotland. This is good news. They look good, they usually have front and back doors and gardens.

A blot on the overall performance of the councils and the housing associations is that of voids. Voids are empty houses waiting to be repaired and returned to lettable standard. Repairs can be as simple as a clean up all the way up to a significant structural repair. Houses are segregated into two categories; lettable and difficult to let.

Getting voids turned around quickly also requires the utilities to react quickly. This isn’t always the case and valuable time and money can be lost. This is an area which Central Government could become involved, probably through OfGEM or the OFT. Anyone can complain to either and I’d suspect either of them may well be keen to pick something like this up.

Both councils and housing associations are responsible for the way they let homes. They look closely at the potential tenants ability to afford the rent, they help them access financial support where available and they follow a sustainable tenancy policy, which ensure tenants are supported to remain in their home.

It doesn’t always work out for the best although efforts have been made to bring together councils, housing associations, the NHS and central government to create a more joined up approach to providing homes which are appropriate and suitable.

Our young people will mostly end up renting from a private landlord, paying more than they would if they had a mortgage. Some landlords are unscrupulous and this has been a growing problem with additional costs being added for credit checks, contracting, repair costs, holding onto deposits, reducing the amount of repayment of the deposits and threatening to provide references which are not good or not providing a reference at all.

I’d imagine that it will take quite some time for this state of financial affairs to be remedied. It’s far from ideal and we all want to see our children move forward and achieve more for themselves than we did, just as or own parents wanted the same for us.

I did some work for a particular housing association a couple of years ago. I was looking at void performance so I decided to go out with the manager responsible. We started out at an easy to let property, which required cleaning, a bit of tidying up and a few other improvements which would be carried out following the new tenants moving in.

The next one had been abandoned. A family had removed most of their belongings, locked the doors and disappeared. Local kids had broken in and caused some damage, which would also have to be addressed. Childrens toys had been left behind and there was a huge pile of mail behind the door. It was a home, people lived their lives there, and if they’d spoken to the association they could have kept their home.

The next property wasn’t in a great area but it was a substantial ground floor flat, the garden needed a bit of a tidy but it looked okay… from the outside. Inside all the doors and all the wooden facings had gone, the kitchen and bathroom had been completely stripped back to the bricks. A DIY project, which had grown larger than the tenant could cope with and had left a bill of several thousand pounds.

Next house, nice house nice area. Nice décor. Nice open plan room layout Nice kitchen. Nice views. Nice garden. I went up stairs and encountered an unusual feature. The top step was around 4-6 inches higher than the floor. I asked the manager if this was a feature of this type of house. Of course it wasn’t. The previous tenant had decided that open plan was the way to go. So he took out some of the walls downstairs, removing the structural integrity of not only this house but also the house next door. Cost to repair? £35,000 and counting.

The more efficient the turnaround of voids the quicker houses are let, the less money is lost and more people can be housed. Simple. Well not so simple or everyone would be doing it.

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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in General, Politics


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