Agenda item

QUESTION BY COUNCILLOR ANDRE MCPHERSON TO COUNCILLOR LINDA EVANS, EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER FOR HOUSING

“Could I ask what action this Authority is taking to address homelessness in Carmarthenshire, including any action bringing empty homes back into use?”

Minutes:

“Could I ask what action this Authority is taking to address homelessness in Carmarthenshire, including any action bringing empty homes back into use?”

 

Response by Councillor Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing:-

 

“Can I first of all thank Councillor McPherson for this important question?  As Members you have received an invitation to join the Officers from the Housing department and myself this afternoon in a seminar in order to have a discussion on developing a new homelessness plan.  I hope that you will all be there.

Next week on the Community Scrutiny Committee agenda there is an opportunity for Members to discuss in detail what we are doing in order to deal with empty properties.  So this morning with your permission Chair, I would like to give a general overview to you in response to the question.

First of all our approach to homelessness is simple. Preventing it from happening in the first place. This is about ensuring we transfer the help and advice which is relevant to all.  That we have options and suitable steps to offer and we have to remember of course that everyone’s situation is different.  When someone is homeless we have to offer them the best accommodation possible and a service which will be of support and of benefit to them.  I think we can all accept that being in a situation such as this is possibly one of the most difficult things anybody can face.

To explain in more practical terms during 2017/18, 1700 householders contacted us in the Housing department asking for help and support with their situation.  Over 90% of them we either helped them to stay where they were or move to a more suitable location.  It is possible to do this because we have put a lot of effort into restructuring our support, providing options and preventing homelessness.  This means that our staff can intervene and support as soon as possible in order to prevent these situations from escalating.  We have one point of contact for the homeless which offers specialist support and help and this is by working very closely with our essential partners such as Shelter and The Wallich and these partners have officers who work alongside us in the Housing department in our offices in Llanelli.  The aim of this is to ensure the right information and support is shared as soon as possible with the relevant Partners.  Can I take this opportunity to thank them for their cooperation and contribution.  We will of course be discussing this further this afternoon. 

During the last two years we have focussed on increasing our affordable housing stock with over 500 extra affordable housing.  In just about under two years we are already over half way towards our target of 1000 extra houses.  We are succeeding because we know how important it is to do everything we can to give people the opportunity to get an affordable home.  Because we are completely aware that we do need more affordable homes and because we are determined to work on this and do something about it.  We have done and will continue to do so. In order to achieve this we will use more than one approach.  We have bought houses in the private sector, we have a substantial social housing development programme and our simple letting scheme has been developed and we are working alongside housing owners in order to bring empty properties back into use. 

We agreed to do this following a task and finish review, where a large percentage of people who were asked, something like 80%, wanted to see us bringing empty properties back into use and that is exactly what we are doing.  We have about 2500 – 2600 empty properties within the County at the moment which is quite a small percentage considering that we have over 78,000 private housing in the County.  In order to deal with empty properties we have an action plan which has succeeded to bring almost 200 empty properties back into use in 2017/18. If you can compare this with only 60 empty properties that came back into use in 2010 under the Labour administration.  We have a clear process in order to work alongside home owners from offering advice, financial loans and. as a last resort. we will take enforcement action if it is needed. 

 

Remember I have not included our new homes programme here.  The building work will be starting very soon. Our first locations will be Garreglwyd in Pembrey and Safle Dylan. I have also not mentioned the Cartrefi Croeso Housing Company, but I will leave that for now.

Can I also take the opportunity to thank the Officers who work in different departments in the County.  The success of our affordable homes plan depends on vision and commitment and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your cooperation.  Every additional home means a stable home for a family or for an individual somewhere that they can call home.  Can I also thank our homelessness forum for their commitment.  We meet regularly with partners from the Third Sector in order to develop our service for the homeless and this has an essential role and so much to contribute to our new plan. Other groups have also been developed such as the work being done in Llanelli in Y Lle and at local chapels. These all do very positive work and do make a difference. Associated with these many give their time voluntarily and some of you are here today and I thank you very much as well. But we won’t be sitting back and thinking that we are doing okay – it’s not enough for me or staff in the housing department and our new homelessness plan will be focussing on this. We want to recognise the potential for crisis sooner by providing more community support in some specific community areas, remodelling temporary accommodation for young people, giving more housing options for young people, and continue to work with the voluntary sector in order to ensure that effective support is available.  The recent report by Shelter talks about the increase in rough sleeping even though it’s not such as big a problem here as other areas. We still want to make sure, if someone is sleeping on the street, that we are aware of them and that our outreach work can respond positively to this. More importantly we want to work together in order to solve homelessness problems and give them homes as soon as possible and I hope as members you are all in agreement with this. I’M very much looking forward to the discussion this afternoon – please be there – your comments and suggestions will be very important. Thank you.”

 

Councillor McPherson asked the following supplementary question:-

 

How do we propose to tackle, as at present we have an overreliance on HMOs for single people which is the highest rate of people who are homeless, how do we look to overcome this?”

 

Response by Councillor Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing:-

Thank you very much for the question. You have raised a very important point. There are people in HMO and they are very often young people and single people. Unfortunately we do have to use them because we use as many of the houses as we have but we must also use the HMOs as well. We are looking at it at the moment to develop various different options for these young people but can I also say, and I think it is important that I mention this, the HMOs that we do use are inspected by us, not weekly but it happens on a regular basis. And that is a very important point, we don’t just put people in a HMO and leave them there, it is a temporary measure and I hopefully think that it is a very short term action but unfortunately we do have to use them on occasions but some people, after saying that, they go to temporary accommodation in a HMO and they are happy to stay there they do not want to move forward. We also have homes, temporary accommodation in an emergency, but we do have to use them at times. But we will be looking at building new homes, all the extra homes that we are going to build, all the houses that we buy, that means that we will be able to take someone else off our waiting list and then provide more accommodation for people. I, more than any of you, want to make sure that all people in Carmarthenshire can have a roof over their head and that is a very big challenge, and I accept that, but by working together we will get there but we have to remember as well that there are one or two on the streets, there is one at the moment who has been travelling around Llanelli, some people don’t want to have a permanent home. It’s very difficult possibly for us to believe that but that is some people’s choice and in those situations we have to accept that there’s not much we can do about that but as long as they know where there is help for them and that they do come to us when they need so thank you once again for the question.”