Homelessness prevention in York gets £251k boost

A new grant of £251,000 to help reduce homelessness in 2019/20 has been awarded to City of York Council by the government.

The money will contribute to work to create safe and supported housing options for people with complex needs who are ready to stop rough sleeping and begin to move back into mainstream housing. This will include an increased use of our making every adult matter service, known as MEAM.

It will also be used to provide early help and prevention services as outlined in our Homelessness Strategy 2018-23 launched in June this year. We’ll be providing additional outreach support and use of a targeted approach to work with rough sleepers and single homeless people – some of whom have complex needs – to help them secure and remain in accommodation.

York Federation of Residents’ Associations folds

The York Federation of Residents’ Associations folded yesterday.

The decision was taken at a meeting which heard that it had been impossible to find a full slate of officers.

The decision doesn’t affect the many individual residents and tenants associations which operate successfully in many parts of the City.

It will, however, mean that a new process is required to allocate some centralised grant funding streams.

The Federation, which depended entirely on the efforts of volunteers, had struggled to deal with increasing regulatory requirements during recent months.

Some of its members had been critical of the lack of involvement on major policy changes being pursued by the Councils Housing Department.

NB. The Council has still not appointed a new contractor to carry on its “tenants choice” modernisation programmes

More cheap homes to buy – new scheme launched by York Council

Shared home ownership scheme

Following on from yesterdays news about a £112,500 flat being sold in Skeldergate, there is more good news for aspiring home owners in York today.

An innovative new scheme to help more people afford a home of their own in York is being launched!

City of York Council’s new shared ownership scheme invites applicants to find their own home on the open market or choose from four high quality newly-converted apartments to buy with the council.

In York, high demand and low supply has increased house prices beyond the reach of many residents. With average house prices nine times local average wages the scheme for 65 homes is run in partnership with Homes England until early 2021, to help eligible York residents get on to the property ladder.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • have a combined household income of less that £80,000 per year
  • be first time buyers, or former home owners, or military or ex military personnel
  • be unable to afford to purchase a suitable home at market value
  • not own a share of, or own any other property (unless a shared ownership home that you wish to move from)
  • Have a minimum 5% deposit and be able to cover the cost of buying a property
  • Have secured a mortgage offer.

Eligible people can choose a property from the open housing market. This must be:

  • within the price guidelines set out in an offer letter – usually for no more than £200,000
  • within the City of York boundary area
  • not a listed building or in a listed building
  • in good mortgage-able condition
  • without any previous shared ownership grant funding attached
  • priced in line with an independent valuation.

If eligible and interested, first get a mortgage offer from a lender then apply via www.helptobuy.gov.uk – run by Yorkshire Housing. Please state on your application that you wish to buy with City of York Council and your details will be passed on to us.

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Tough line taken on nuisance tenants

But Council fails to support “Good Tenants”

A tough line is being taken on council tenants whose anti-social behaviour has prompted York’s magistrates to close their homes.

The Community Safety Hub – which includes council and North Yorkshire Police officers – has been supported by local residents to help act to stop the pattern of anti-social behaviour at four York council homes.

As part of their tenancy agreement council tenants or their visitors must not act in a way which intimidates or disturbs their neighbours. To do so risks losing their tenancy.

An address at Dale Street, York has been closed up to prevent tenant Scott Berkley (aged 43 of Dale Street, York) from continuing to create nuisance. The court heard of his repeated loud shouting, swearing and verbal abuse of neighbours. Neighbours regularly reported needles discarded in the gardens and were disturbed by multiple visitors to the property every day and at all hours.

During a tenancy of less than two years, Mr Berkley was convicted three times for possession of drugs and on 14 August 2018 at York Magistrates Court he pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to a Community Rehabilitation Order for 12 months and ordered to repay the victim £200.
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York Council moves to buy out Arclight and Robinson Court

Arclight

The York Council is expected to announce next month that it will buy out the York Housing Associations interest in the Arclight centre for rough sleepers. The centre is now run by “Changing Lives” and may be renamed as the Union Terrace Centre.

The Council is also set to buy the Robinson Court building in Walmgate. Robinson Court specialises in providing accommodation for homeless 16 – 21 year olds. It is currently also owned by the York Housing Association and is also managed by Changing Lives.

The cost, and funding source, for these purchases will be revealed when the agenda for the August meeting of the Councils Executive is published.

Both properties form part of York’s homeless alleviation strategy.

Separately the Council has announced the purchase of another home from the open market. A property in Hessay Place will be added to the pool of homes available on a shared ownership basis.

Tenants let down by Tories

It has emerged that the Councillor with responsibility for housing, failed to make provision for existing Council tenants, seeking a transfer, when she approved a new allocations policy last week.

She had been asked to continue the existing policy where existing tenants – with a good rent and behaviour record – could “bid” for a transfer to a vacant property as it became available.

The option has been available to tenants for over 20 years and addressed the needs of these living in properties, with the “correct” number of bedrooms, but who needed to move closer to jobs, relatives or friends.

It is alsoa lifeline for those who for those who had originally been allocated a property with bad neighbours and provided light at the end of the tunnel for anyone living in a block of flats with anti social neighbours.

Councillors are being urged to “call in” the decision for further consideration.

Progress in boosting York cheaper homes initiative

The Council has recently agreed to purchase several vacant homes in the City. It is part of a plan, tabled several years ago, by the LibDems which will see property bought on the open market to  ease the housing crisis.

Grange Lane

The funding to purchase empty homes will mainly come from the surplus accumulated over many years on the Council housing account.

The properties will be available on a part rent/part mortgage basis for lower paid local workers.

Typically schemes like this allow couples to get on the housing ladder and gradually move on to own the whole of the property.

Homes purchased recently include ones in Foxwood Lane, Kingsway West, Troutbeck, Teal Drive and Grange Lane

Several of the properties are former Council houses which were sold under “right to buy” legislation. They are a mixture of 2 and 3 bedroomed properties.

Initially the homes are likely to be offered to those on the housing waiting list and existing tenants.

The initiative will reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites.

An independent appraised of shared ownership can be found by clicking here

York Council set to punish “good tenants”?

The York Council is aiming to quit the North Yorkshire Home Choice service (NTHC). The scheme provides a boundary free geographical area in North Yorkshire for which prospective social housing tenants can register their interest. It allows, for example, Selby residents to register an interest in moving to York, while York applicants can register to move to Scarborough.

Most respondents to a council survey disagreed with the York plan to leave the organisation, although most did agree with a range of changes which would tighten up the how social housing allocations are made.

These include plans to crack down on fraudulent applications and ways to reduce the period during which bids for housing must be lodged.

The full new York allocations policy can be found by clicking here

Hidden in the proposed changes is a plan to scrap the “Good Tenants” system which allows existing tenants, with a good rent payment and behaviour record, to participate in the bid process for vacant properties in other parts of the City.

It was introduced about 15 years ago to help those tenants who, through no fault of their own, ended up being housed in a neighbourhood remote for their job, family or friends.

This could happen when new tenants were given no choice of location when allocations were made.

In some cases, neighbour problems prompted requests for transfers.They often found it impossible to agree anl exchange, particularly if they lived in a street or block with a poor reputation.

When considering the “good tenant” scheme  several councillors, at the time, argued that a mis-allocation should not be a “life sentence”. Some tenants found it impossible to find  a mutual exchange partner and “management transfers” were hard to get.

Including transfer requests in the letting process does not reduce the number of vacancies available. It may add a few days into the cycle as the first tenant moves to their new home. Their old tenancy though becomes immediately available for letting.

The only real argument in favour of the restriction offered by officials is administrative convenience.

Peoples well being should have a higher priority.

Interestingly this proposal was not included in the survey of opinion that the Council undertook with local tenant representative organisations.

Separately, the Council has said in response to a Freedom of information request that it cannot provide figures giving the number of applicants on the housing waiting list divided between those applying because of overcrowding and those existing tenants who are seeking to downsize.

They say only that the numbers on the waiting list by band currently are:

  • Bronze 408
  • Silver 866
  • Gold 206
  • Total 1480

Historical trend information is also not available.

We are slightly sceptical about the response.

If the authority does not have an accurate picture of the size of homes which are in greatest demand, then it can hardly justify spending tens of millions of pounds on its new Council house building programme.

York Council debts mounting as housing borrowing plan pushes finances to the brink

By the end of the year the York Council will have debts of over £318.2 million, up £52 million compared to 12 months earlier.

Nearly 14% of taxes paid to the authority now go on interest and principal repayments on loans.

The authority owes £139 million in historic debt on Council housing programmes.

The overall exposure is partly offset by investment balances which stand at £75.7 million (down from £91.6 million in 2017)

Debts have increased because of several projects. One of the most expensive is York’s share of the Allerton Park waste processing plant. Money has also been borrowed to fund aspects of the York Central development.

The financial assessment is due to be discussed at a meeting later this week.

The same meeting will consider the Council’s policy on funding new housing.

Included in the plan is a proposal which would see the Council borrowing £10 million to fund the development of the Lowfields site. This means the Council will have housing debts of £145 million, close to the legal debt cap of £146 million.

The Lowfields proposal involves building on a sports field which will be controversial and may lead to legal challenges. A promised “start on site” early in 2019 looks optimistic.

There is also the problem of development expertise in the Council. It has a woeful recent project management record with cost escalations on several major projects including the Community Stadium and the refurbishment of the Guildhall.

Lowfields – Plan to build on sports pitches

There are some good features in the new housing plan, but the Council will be sailing very close to the financial wind if it accepts the officer recommendations without amendment.

The report fails to address the problem of unlocking disused Council land like the site behind the Acomb Library or private sector “land banks” like the prime location next to the Barbican.

It would be more than ironic if the planning committee was bullied into accepting the Lowfields plans which, green space provision aside, feature straight geometric lines of 3 bed semis – a discredited  layout abandoned by other Councils over 50 years ago

New ways to support rough sleepers year-round

 Big-hearted residents are being asked to consider year-round ways to support rough sleepers into safer more stable lifestyles.

The generosity of people to people sleeping outside at Christmas and this year’s snow has been overwhelming, say homeless charities and the council. This helped to continue work to ensure every rough sleeper is offered a bed and support into safer more stable lives. with the result that on 28 February, just five were sleeping outdoors.

The Salvation Army, Changing Lives, Carecent and Peasholme and other hostels have been flooded with donations of bedding, clothing, food, toiletries and gifts which have been given to people sleeping on the streets and to those who are setting up a new home.

Knowing that many people want to help people who are homeless year-round, the hostels and charities are suggesting some ideas to help support people off the streets:

Please offer your skills:

  • Volunteer with Changing Lives, Restore and Carecent or contact York CVS to offer your time and skills to help homeless people. Maybe you can cut hair or teach cookery, perhaps you could train someone in plumbing or teach guitar? Please contact the charities or York CVS at www.volunteeringyork.org.uk/, 15 Priory St, York, North Yorkshire YO1 6ET, tel: 01904 621 133

Please offer accommodation:

Please offer household goods:

  • Donate clean bedding, towels, toiletries and kitchen utensils to help people who are moving into accommodation. Please hand it in to Peasholme Centre, 4 Fishergate for distribution to York’s hostels.
  • Donate reusable furniture to York Furniture Store on 01904 426444, which helps homeless people furnish their homes. They’ll pick up items for free. http://communityfurniturestore.co.uk/wordpress/index.php?page_id=7
  • Donate food to York Foodbank tel or visit https://york.foodbank.org.uk/ or to Carecent call 01904 624244 or visit www.carecent.org.

Please offer to fundraise:

  • Fundraise or donate to recognised charities working with rough sleepers and homeless people. Changing Lives, Salvation Army,

Please help rough sleepers off the street:

  • Report the location of rough sleepers 24/7 to Streetlink on 0300 5000914 or www.streetlink.org.uk. Streetlink passes this information to The Salvation Army which regularly visits rough sleepers to help them into accommodation and safer, more stable lives.
  • Please urge them to go to our hostels. We will do our utmost to help them off the streets and into safer, more stable lives.

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