Eastbourne council leaders have backed plans to buy up housing in an effort to cut back on the use of bed and breakfast rooms as emergency accommodation, writes Local Democracy Reporter Huw Oxburgh.
On Tuesday (July 9), Eastbourne Borough Council’s cabinet gave the go ahead to proposals to buy up to 70 properties for use as emergency housing for homeless families.
Cabinet members heard how the proposals would be expected to save the council around £352,000 each year by cutting back on the amount it pays to rent private suppliers, typically in the form of bed and breakfast rooms.
The proposals were welcomed by cabinet member Margaret Bannister, who said: “Having worked with families that have gone through the stress of being made homeless, I have been to some of our temporary accommodation which is not always up to a very good standard.
“To give the facility of an actual house is wonderful and it means the children within the family will be much more secure.”
The 70 homes are to be bought by the council-owned Eastbourne Homes Investment Company Limited (EHICL), then leased back by the council at a market rate.
This would be expected to save the authority around £352,000 each year, as it would cost significantly less than renting from private suppliers, council papers say.
The move comes after a rapid rise in both demand for emergency accommodation places and their cost to councils across the country.
Housing experts say there are a variety of reasons for the rise in demand, including: new requirements under the Homelessness Reduction Act; high levels of evictions following the rollout of Universal Credit; and a tight supply of affordable accommodation for those on low incomes.
Whatever the causes, Eastbourne currently has around 165 families living in emergency accommodation.
If this figure does not fall the council’s total emergency accommodation bill could come to more than £1m by the end of this financial year, officers have warned.
The council can recover part of its emergency housing costs from central government through the Local Housing Allowance rate (LHA).
This LHA rate is based on the rental prices within an area but is typically less than the average ‘market rate’ of renting a property.
Currently, a large proportion of the council’s temporary accommodation spaces are in the form of hotel and bed and breakfast rooms.
These rooms can cost significantly more than both the LHA rate, which the council can claim back from central government, and the higher market rate.
Beyond the cost, the council says, these rooms can often be ‘cramped’ and isolated from a family’s ‘familiar neighbourhoods, schools or places of employment’, having an ‘adverse impact on the well-being of adults and children alike’.
By buying the 70 properties, the council says it hopes to both reduce its costs and improve the living conditions of families in emergency accommodation.
It would come alongside other council work to find more permanent housing for homeless families and to intervene and prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place, officers said.