Local Authorities wishing to tackle major problems relating to housing find themselves in a tough situation.
Grant for building new council housing is very limited. The ability of Councils to borrow money to build new housing is very limited. Large numbers of people are out of work, benefits are being cut and wages are stagnant so more and more people are finding it difficult to make rent or mortgage payments. The government seem complacent in the face of these challenges.
So what is a local authority to do? Well, there is only so much that they can do in the current circumstances. However, within the limits of our times, here are some ideas for what an ambitious local authority might do;
1. Stop all evictions for rent arrears from council housing
I have seen households evicted for rent arrears of less than a thousand pounds. Evicting people for rent arrears does not help anyone. It makes a household homeless, it means lots of money spend on legal fees and it gives up any chance of recovering the lost rent. Far better to have better benefit and debt advice services and, if necessary, to go to bailiffs to take and sell tenants’ possessions.
2. Use the pension fund to develop private rented housing for those on middle incomes
Local Authorities have been used to helping housing associations to build houses for people on very low incomes. Households on middle incomes were left to rent privately or to buy their own homes.
Increasingly, households on middle incomes are renting since the amount needed for a deposit is so high. Rather than propping up the already very high house prices by offering discounted mortgages and the like, local authorities could start building homes for these households to rent.
This would probably have to be done by a new company set up by the council. Part of the money needed to acquire land and so on could come from the council’s own pension funds (which already invest a lot in property).
3. Establish your own letting’s agency
Lots of landlords only own one or two properties. This means they often do not know the first thing about being a landlord. Instead, they trust a lettings agency. Some agents are good and others aren’t but the industry is not well regulated. This can mean shorter term tenancies are promoted and fees constantly increase.
Local authorities could establish their own letting agents to provide more impartial advice to tenants and landlords. This could go along with other initiatives such as requiring landlords to be licensed, as is happening in Newham.
4. Promote room sharing schemes
We hear a lot about how many spare rooms there are in council housing. Indeed, the government is introducing a new scheme (‘the bedroom tax’) which takes money off people’s housing benefit if they have spare rooms and live in council housing.
We hear less about how many spare rooms there are in properties which households own themselves.
A number of properties with empty rooms are owned by people with some kind of limiting long term health condition. These people will often get support from the local authority. There are already some schemes like Homeshare where;
someone who needs a small amount of help to live independently in their own home is matched with someone who has a housing need and can provide support or companionship
These schemes could be made central to the way a local authority supports someone with long term health conditions.