Future of York Council housing to be decided on Thursday

“This is likely to require the demolition of the poorest housing stock to replace with new homes”.
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The report states that 60% of Council homes were built between 1930 and 1968. Older ones may be reaching the end of their lives. The report claims that the popularity and value of all properties have been assessed in a “Housing Asset Register” although no link to the document has been provided.

The report’s conclusions could have far reaching effects on many Council tenants living in York.

 It is a shame, therefore, that the report – and an accompanying review of the Housing Revenue Account – have been added to the agenda for the busiest meeting of the year, with tenants and their representatives having had little time to digest the report’s content (or even see it in most cases).

No consultation with stakeholders has taken place nor is any promised.

The Council confirms that – in advance of government legislation – it will sell any high value Council houses that become vacant, although It does not indicate the threshold for such sales.

It will also consider selling other sub-standard properties when they become vacant. Non-standard built houses like “Orlits” and those liable to flooding or dampness are specifically mentioned.   

Orlit houses may face demolition

Orlit houses may face demolition

One piece of good news is that the Council may in future use “right to buy” receipts to fund “a programme of purchase and repair of individual homes from the open market if no use has been identified (for the receipt) with 6 months to go”.

The Council is right to come up with plans for a regeneration of its housing estates. Too many of them have been subject to decline over several years with officials having ignored the need to provide basic improvements, like car parking spaces, for too long. 

There is little pride in some communal areas and some politicians see local open spaces and the stock of 968 garages only as potential building sites.

However, by giving all homes what it calls a sale “opportunity rating” the Council seems to be oblivious to the resulting blight that could affect whole neighbourhoods.

It would be easy to dismiss a report on the future of the 7731 Council houses in York as the work of a Borneo Witch Doctor. It certainly contains a lot of mumbo jumbo.

The proposals need a lot more thought and debate.

York lags behind in house building recovery

Despite the economic recovery, York lagged behind the rest of the country in the number of new homes completed last year.Behind closed doors logo

A report published after a “behind closed doors” meeting held last week revealed that only 50 affordable homes were built in the City  last year.

This is down from the 282 built during the last year of the Liberal Democrat led Council administration in 2010/2011.

It compares to the annual target of 790 new homes adopted by Labour Councillors following a “strategic market assessment”.

On average, 150 affordable homes had been built annually  during the pervious 5 years.

Alarmingly the number of new affordable homes being added by the Council is now less than the number of Council houses being sold under “Right to Buy” legislation

Year

RTB Applications RTB Sales

11/12

20 6
12/13 88

23

13/14 77

53

The Council has failed to invest the income from RTB sales effectively

The Council has also failed to use its substantial £12.86 million housing surplus to buy empty homes on the open market, and resolutely refuses to use the “New Homes Bonus” (money provided by the government to recognise house building success) on affordable homes.

Small wonder that Labour did not want these figures to be debated in public.

The only crumb of comfort was that – in line with the rest of the country – the total number of planning applications for new homes rose from 370 units in 2012 to 1578 last year, although a significant proportion of these were for specialist student flats.

£1.9 million from Council house sales unused in York

The Council has been forced to reveal,  in a response to a Freedom of Information request, how much it has received in income from “right to buy” Council housesales

Over the last 2 years the Council has received over £4 million from sales.

Part of this has to be returned to central government but £2.5 million was available for the Council to spend on replacement properties.

Right to buy sales in York

Right to buy sales in York

It has so far only committed to invest £520,624 on new properties (Mainly those scheduled for sites like Beckfield Lane).

The information was released only a day after the Council Leader had been forced to agree to consider whether some of the £13 million surplus on the housing account could be used to purchase properties on the open market.

Liberal Democrat Councillors have pointed out for months that, with the majority of applicants on the housing waiting list seeking single bedroomed accommodation, the quickest way to address their needs would be to purchase empty homes from the open market.

Instead of using the considerable resources available to the Council to provide additional social housing, the Councils Leadership have engaged in an ultimately pointless ramble about introducing a cap on private sector rent levels.

Such a “cap” would require Parliamentary approval and would not ultimately be of much help to the less well off, who have at least part of their rent paid through housing benefit

Lower rent levels could, therefore, reduce government expenditure on benefit payments but would also drive many “buy to let” landlords from the market (as they would be unable to repay their mortgages)

The Council Leader has also claimed that house prices have increased in York.

Although there are “hot spots” in the City and some growth in house prices over recent months, as the graph shows, prices have still not returned to their 2008 peak.

House price trends in York area

House price trends in York area