This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Housing and Community Services Portfolio, which fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services being held to account.
Members considered a report setting out activities and progress on work areas within the Housing and Community Services Portfolio, which fell within the remit of this Committee.
The following issues were discussed:
Homelessness and housing options:
· Asked to comment on the practice of relocating people out of the area and accepting homeless people from other areas, the Portfolio Holder said that the object was to avoid sending anyone out of area. The service was sensitive to the fact that people had links and support networks within Medway which would be lost if this happened.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked to comment on the risk of homeowners, for the first time, losing their homes as a result of the cost of living crisis. He said that he had held discussions with officers about this and the situation would be monitored. Support that could be offered included discussions with mortgage companies, signposting residents to the Citizens Advice Bureau, and financial advice. There would always be circumstances which could lead to people becoming homeless, such as family arguments, and the lockdowns had led to an increase in such circumstances. The Council had been successful in helping to prevent this, for example by supporting reconciliation efforts. The aim was to identify the issue and support people before a situation reached the point of possible homelessness. However, sometimes people were determined to go down the repossession route, for example where the relationship between landlord and tenant had completely broken down.
· Asked how many of the 310 households in temporary accommodation were in Medway and how many included children, the Portfolio Holder said that he believed all were in Medway. The service tried to house families with children as quickly and sympathetically as possible, recognising that children needed a strong base. Where it was no longer possible for a young person to live in the family home, the Council had a number of tools to assist, which included placing them in temporary accommodation whilst alternative solutions were sought. He confirmed that no children were in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Portfolio Holder highlighted the close links which had been strengthened between Housing and Children’s services.
Housing management and allocations
· The Portfolio Holder responded to concerns expressed about some Housing Associations’ unresponsiveness when contacted by the Council or tenants. He considered that some had become too large. There remained the option to remove a Housing Association from the Council’s list should there continue to be issues. Complaints could also be made to Homes England which could result in a loss of funding. It was requested that Councillors be sent a point of contact for all social landlords.
· Responding to a case where an applicant had waited 11 years for accommodation, the Portfolio Holder said that this was very much a one-off case and was likely to be due to someone wanting a specific property.
· Commenting on the initiatives introduced in response to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the Portfolio Holder said that these were up and running and discretionary grants were processed as quickly as possible, as were other support mechanisms. He added that it was not always necessary to place victims of domestic abuse far away and the service worked with them to find the right solution. Asked to comment on how trust was being built with hard to reach communities, the Portfolio Holder confirmed that links were developed and maintained with a diverse range of communities. He added that the Council did not seek to identify incidents of domestic abuse within communities as this would be seen as a gross intrusion and interference.
Private Sector Housing
· The Portfolio Holder said that the Planning Department monitored whether planning consents for disabled units were being met. He added that it was better to build such units than adapt existing units.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked to comment on a case where a tenant in dispute with their landlord had been advised to remain in the property and wait for the landlord to take legal action. He responded that it was the general policy not to make repossessions easy and that landlords needed to be held to account. Equally, it was not the intention to put people in difficult situations where landlords were being difficult.
· Asked about the three cases of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence breaches with the legal team, the Portfolio Holder said that the Council would always seek to work with landlords and licensees to resolve issues before taking court action.
Housing Landlord Services
· Referring to the backlog of repairs that had built up during the covid pandemic, the Portfolio Holder reported that this was being tackled.
· Regarding energy, the Portfolio Holder reported that the Council had employed a Warmth Sustainability Officer. Insulation within homes was being improved where necessary as a priority to ensure they were fit for purpose.
Libraries and Community Hubs
· Asked about the ownership of buildings that were occupied by libraries being transformed into Community Hubs, the Portfolio Holder said that the legal position of any leasehold issue was examined before any transformation programme proceeded as it was important that the Council’s investment was protected.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked if any benchmarking or surveys had been undertaken to establish how the scope of services available at Community Hubs could be expanded to meet all the needs of residents. He responded that there was continued development so that the range of services offered to the community was expanded. The Portfolio Holder said that feedback from service users was always encouraged, and he agreed that a customer survey would be beneficial.
· In response to a question on innovative thinking, the Portfolio Holder referred to liaison with Greenwich University and encouraged all Members to contact the Climate Change team with any ideas for alternative solutions.
· The Portfolio Holder confirmed that the team had contacted a number of the 30 local authorities whose Climate Change Action Plan had been ranked higher than Medway’s, to see what further improvements could be made as, although the Council was in the top 10%, the aspiration was to be first.
· Concern was expressed that smaller local charities, were seeing their income streams reduce as a result of the cost of living crisis. The Portfolio Holder said that the Council liaised very closely with voluntary organisations and would always seek to help any organisation that was in difficulty. If it could no longer provide the services, the Council would seek to retain it if it was viable.
Kyndi/Medway Development Company (MDC)
· Asked about the recruitment service returning to the Council from Kyndi, the Portfolio Holder said that the recruitment sector had changed and the Council had taken the view that Kyndi should focus on CCTV and Telecare.
· The continued existence of Kyndi was questioned, and the Portfolio Holder advised that it was improving and was now making sound profits.
· Asked about the impact of the increased cost of building materials on MDC, the Portfolio Holder said that all MDC schemes were evaluated and were only pursued if they were viable. Schemes such as Mountbatten House, Garrison Point and Chatham Waterfront were justified by the benefits they would bring.
The Committee thanked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for his attendance and for his detailed responses.