Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Housing Fit For... People


A post by Tedious Tantrums.

Last week Subrosa had a 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.

Subrosa's blog last week dealt with the sale of council houses which has recently been withdrawn for new council houses and new tenants.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 d├ęcor. 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.

12 comments:

Gedguy said...

As with everything in life, nothing is simple when you need a committee to make decisions. Then, when add in the 'strange' tenants who go about destroying their(?) homes with vigour and no idea of building techniques or regulations you end up with the state of the housing that we have at the moment.
What is the answer; I haven't got a b****y clue. I agree with the principle of social housing and thought that Maggie's destruction of the social housing policy was a political and financial move that should never have been allowed. However, a lack of proper repairs and the social engineering of build 'em high and cram them in' was a complete and utter failure. At a guess I would say that those architects would never dream of living in the types of housing that they were forced [by the cash strapped councils] to design and build; so why were we forced into this?

JRB said...

T.T.

I have the privilege and good luck to live in beautiful rural part of Scotland.

However, gross under provision of - starter / affordable / first- time / council housing / rentable / ‘call it what you will’ housing / - has resulted in great swathes of our young people leaving the land of their birth and having to head for the big cities to seek a new life.

The net effect has been to make the Highland Clearances look no more brutal than a Sunday school outing.

This results in a rural population made up entirely of the middle aged and elderly. On the rare occasion that a young family is seen, it can be taken as a sure sign that some elderly person has passed away, thus releasing a property.

Now we have developers appearing building new houses which only the middle aged and elderly can afford. These ‘developers’(?) are supposedly obliged to build a small percentage of starter homes, but these are always the last to be built, and then, only if all other houses in the development are sold.

Planning / forethought / common sense / - hasn’t been a feature of rural housing policy for a generation.

RantinRab said...

The problem with the housing market is that it's used as a means of making money rather than making homes.

It really is as simple as that.

tedioustantrums said...

Gedguy. Even now some of the council efforts haven't delivered what they should have. Councils shouldn't build houses they should contract builders to do it. Some do some try to do it for themselves.

Things are improving but it was a very low starting point.

tedioustantrums said...

The last house I bought was as investment and was in a very up market development. How upmarket? I'm quite sure two of my neighbours were drug dealers with money to burn.

By law the estate had to have some affordable houses. They were built last on an odd piece of land and everyone on the estate howled and complained about it.

No one has come up with an answer on how to achieve the sort of social mix which will work as things currently are.

Second homes drive up the prices and locals find it difficult. Bottom line though JRB is young people just can't get mortgages. This will bite us all in the future.

tedioustantrums said...

Well RantinRab you're spot on. Not all countries manage this though. lots of countries have huge rented sectors which provide homes at reasonable costs.

In rip of Britain though we have everyone in the chain having to have a bite meaning the last link pays for all their profits.

Gedguy said...

tedioustantrums

"Councils shouldn't build houses they should contract builders to do it."

I agree 100%.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Build a nations democracy and the houses and homes will follow,

Gedguy said...

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers ,

True.

tedioustantrums said...

Hi Crinkly and Ged,

Democracy at a local level should be achievable. Localism would provide the controls necessary to deliver the right kind of housing for the local area.

Thanks guys.

Observer said...

Good article.

There is an obligation on most Housing Associations to carry out an ''annual visit'' to check up on the tenant & update records, that would of course identify the tenant who has decided to knock down walls & do other bonkers stuff, or perhaps exist in alleyways constructed by newspapers surrounded by beer cans. Sadly not every HA is resourced to do that, but it is a good idea.

tedioustantrums said...

It's not something I come across very often. Resourcing is an issue and there is also an issue with who is responsible. Repairs/Direct Works/scheduled repairs v Housing/Admin/Customer Service/Neighbourhood.

The tenant is supported from a financial management point of view as this is easy and the regulator measures debt collection etc.

You are right. It should be looked at cyclically, even if it's just a percentage sample. I suggested to one association that they ask the various tenants asociations to keep a look out for skips, building detrious and tradesmans vans. Not sure they did though.

Thanks for your comment Observer.

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