While more and more suburban housing developments are being built in and around Kettering and the size of the town is set to grow for years to come, there is a hidden problem in Kettering for those further down the economic ladder who aren’t able to join the government’s home ownership bonanza.
Month after month Kettering Council have presided over worsening problems in the social housing sector, and this week the council’s head of housing once again announced worsening figures with 61 households now in emergency accommodation because proper housing cannot be found for them. With 16 of those, actually having to be temporarily housed outside of the borough and away from their friends and family the shortage is so acute!
We are told that a large part of the problem is the cost of rents in the private sector which have soared over the last couple of years and according to the council, private landlords are deliberately getting rid of those tenants only able to pay low rents to replace them with higher earning individuals and families to take advantage of this.
This is shown in the proportion of housing applications to council coming from those who have lost tenancies within the private rented sector, having increased from 24% of applications last year to 56% this year. Another disturbing trend is the increase of families with young children finding themselves unable to house themselves. In twelve months that figure has risen from 41% of all applications to a staggering 77% and Kettering council are seemingly unable to cope.
The fundament issue that stops the council dealing with this problem efficiently is the lack of social housing with the council being told that ‘the numbers of available properties continues to decline’.
Kettering Council are building a mere five council houses this year and these are the first to be built in Kettering for over twenty years! Traditionally the council have relied on housing associations to build new housing but lack of government investment and funding has slowed that down and further potential changes in government policy have led to a nervousness in the sector that is weakening their position. Some housing associations are apparently even considering deregistering as social landlords.
The overall situation is becoming a real mess and until it is sorted out vulnerable families will continue to be hit, and the Labour Group on the council are determined that the situation be rectified. Housing is our biggest priority and we are working to help the Conservative Administration to find a solution to the problem. In this year's alternative budget we put forward costed proposals to build council housing this year. These were rejected but no alternative to them has yet been proposed.
The Conservative leader of the council recently agreed with me that the government are putting too much emphasis on home ownership, and another senior Tory Councillor had also admitted publically that government policy is not helping. Kettering’s head of housing went further and at this week's meeting of the Town Forum said that ‘in his professional opinion government policy is unsustainable and he is not alone in saying that’.
But other councils around the country are in the same position and are actively doing things! I met a councillor from Newark and Sherwood Council the other week who told me they had just agreed to build over 300 new homes.
There are financial difficulties in building new homes. The cost of any capital borrowing has to be met from future rental income and cannot be subsidised from the council tax payer, however that doesn’t make it impossible. Far from it, what Kettering Council needs is the same commitment that other councils are showing to come up with an imaginative plan to address the crisis that they find themselves falling into.
As leader of the Labour opposition I am determined that this issue needs to be resolved and we will continue to raise deficiencies in the current system, but will also work constructively with the administration to offer them support and advice to make the first steps to dig themselves out of the mess they find themselves in, and we are committed to seeing new council housing within the Borough being built.