The Sub-Committee were presented with a report that summarised what had been identified in previous briefings, on the impact COVID 19 had on homelessness demand. Furthermore, it was outlined that it was imperative the Council continued to develop the service and provide as many pathways to appropriate and suitable accommodation as possible. This would be possible through the following:
1. Increasing Private Sector Lease supply to stem the outflow of properties handed back to the landlord. Improving lease and property maintenance terms, reviewing the rents and providing better quality accommodation for residents.
2. Cabinet sign off to purchase 125 properties through Mercury Land Holdings (MLH) as well as bolster the number of properties sourced in the private rented market.
3. Introduction of 35 units of high complex needs accommodation for people who were sleeping on the streets, released from prison or hospital and had mental health, drug and alcohol as well as other combined complex needs preventing high cost interventions from acute services such as A&E.
It was explained that the war in the Ukraine was not anticipated and therefore there was no preparation for Ukrainian families fleeing their homes seeking refuge in the United Kingdom. The impact of the macro-economic forces caused record inflation and rising interest rates hitting London badly, meaning that: tenants rents are unaffordable, landlords are exiting the market and the private rented sector market is drying up.
Furthermore, the Afghan Relocation Assistance Programme (ARAP) and Homes 4 Ukraine Scheme (H4UK), with the backdrop of the Home Office, exhausted hotel use across London to accommodate Afghan refugees and other asylum seekers they sort to meet the needs of Ukrainian Refugees with alternative accommodation vehicles.To date Havering Council had pledged to support eight Afghan families accommodating five. Further support was yet to be declared and until it was clear what the proposal for the fair share distribution plans looked like across London for Afghan refugees currently held in hotels and dispersal accommodation.
Homes4Ukraine Havering however, had facilitated the support for 319 fleeing guests through the sponsorship and family visa programme and had since collaborated with other local authorities sharing valuable insights and service infrastructure. However, the pressure was continuing to mount with sponsorships coming to the end of its 6 month plan and relationship breakdowns increasingly prevalent in the family visa scheme. As a result of the scheme the people of Havering had responded admirably to the humanitarian effort and alleviated some of the pressure to secure housing for refugees in the interim. Although there was an inability to move households on into longer term housing would have lasting consequences for children settling into the area. It was also anticipated that many hosts would ask their HfU guests to leave at the end of the initial six months of their commitment which would put additional pressure on homelessness services as the Council had a statutory duty to accommodate them.
The Impact on our MLH Scheme and private rented market was affected by rising inflation and interest rates which have damaged the viability of the Council’s MLH scheme and the 125 units proposed could no longer be delivered.
Find your Own, the private rented sector had also taken a dramatic turn with the Council no longer able to deliver the 40 units of accommodation it was securing each month. This number has fallen drastically with landlords asking for premium rents, deposits, rent advances and additional incentive payments.
Therefore the Council was not able to secure private rented accommodation at the previous rates of 40 properties a month through the Find Your Own scheme and this had fallen by almost 60% with expenditure fallen from an all-time high of £118k per month to as low as £26k. This further illustrated the challenges in the market to secure available private rented properties.
Various questions were asked by Members and Officers explained that in terms of the allocation scheme for Council housing, this would be re-evaluated with the new administration and Members were welcome to take part in those conversations.
The Sub-Committee noted the significant pressures on Housing and its accommodation resources and were informed of the wider implications of housing and the impact on children’s and families.