Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting OXFORD NEWS to 80360 or email us
£10m bid to find homes
OXFORD City Council wants to spend £10m buying houses for the homeless.
It currently houses abut 120 separate people or families in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts.
But it fears that figure may rise because of Government welfare reforms such as the “bedroom tax”, will increase demand. The authority wants to spend £10m purchasing up to 55 properties on the open market, to be leased out at housing benefit rates or on an assured shorthold tenancy.
Since 2004, the city council has cut the number of people or families in temporary accommodation from around 1,000 to 123.
But city councillor Scott Seamons, the executive board member for housing needs, said the authority has struggled to reduce that further.
He said: “We remain very concerned about potential rises in homelessness in the city as a consequence of the prolonged recession and the impacts of the Government’s welfare reform agenda.
“We have found it increasingly difficult to secure people housing in the private rented sector to prevent their homelessness.
“This is necessary so we do not risk seeing rising homelessness or
taxpayers and vulnerable households bearing the social and economic costs.”
The city council currently spends £521,000 on temporary accommodation, which can range from council-owned hostels to hotel rooms.
It estimates the new scheme would save about £60,000 a year.
The council would have to take £5m from this year’s budget and £5m from next year’s to pay for it.
City council leader Bob Price said: “The scheme will effectively pay for itself.
“People will not be able to remain there indefinitely. This is first-stage accommodation, so we will try to move people on as quickly as possible.”
The council denied that effectively taking 55 properties off the market for private buyers would have a harmful effect on Oxford’s property market.
Deputy leader Ed Turner said: “In the greater scheme of things, given the number of property transactions a year, it will be a drop in the ocean. The council is building as many new homes as it possibly can alongside this.”
Reaction to the proposals has been mixed.
Lesley Dewhurst, the chief executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, welcomed the announcement.
She said: “I am really pleased to hear the council is trying to invest in substituting private rented housing, because increasingly landlords are choosing not to rent to people who are on benefits.
“This is mainly because of universal credit and the fact the benefits are paid directly to the claimant rather than the landlord.
“Homelessness is an issue across the country as rents and prices go up, but benefits go down.”
But Comfrey Road resident Darren Belcher was not convinced.
Since the bedroom tax was introduced, his £99 weekly housing benefit no longer covers the £112.49 rent on his four-bedroom house.
The 46-year-old, who lives with his wife and four children, said: “It makes it harder to make ends meet and something has got to be sacrificed to make up for it.
“There will be a lot of people who give up their council properties because of this [the bedroom tax].”
On the new proposals, he added: “They could spend the money better elsewhere. It is defeatist as I see it.
“They should use the money on people who are struggling to pay bedroom tax.”
The proposals are due to be discussed by the council’s housing panel at a meeting next Tuesday, followed by a decision by the executive board on Wednesday, September 11.
HOW IT WILL WORK
- The homes would be in Oxford or the neighbouring urban areas, and would not require more than £5,000 of refurbishment work.
- They would be purchased over a period of nine to 12 months to try to avoid having an impact on property values in Oxford.
- There would be a mixture of sizes, but a large number would be two-bedroom because that is where the greatest temporary accommodation need is.
- They would remain as family homes rather than being converted into houses of multiple occupation.
- The tenants would stay until the council decides it does not have a statutory duty to house them or they have been housed in the private sector or social housing.
- Management and maintenance of the properties would be put out to tender.
- The council said if the housing it purchases is no longer needed for the homeless, it can be rented out at social or market rents.
Impact of ‘bedroom tax’ and Universal Credit
The coalition Government has introduced a number of controversial changes to the welfare system in the last year.
In April 2013 it removed the “spare room subsidy”, known as the “bedroom tax”.
If tenants are deemed to have a spare room, the amount of rent eligible for housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent.
The new rules state same-sex children under 16 should share, and under-10s should share, regardless of gender.
It is estimated the changes affect about one in five Oxfordshire people – 3,313 out of 18,661.
Universal Credit, a single payment which will replace six of the main means-tested benefits and tax credits including housing benefit, is being trialled in four local authorities.
Benefits will also be capped at £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, £500 a week for couples with or without children and for single parents with children.
Comments are closed on this article.