Friday, 14 June 2013

Tackling Low Demand and Empty Homes - The campaign goes on... My meeting with the Minister

This week I had a meeting with Don Foster, the Communities Minister, to discuss how the Government can better support communities like Hyndburn to deal with empty housing and low demand areas.This included the problems caused by poor quality private rented housing.

I made it clear to the Minister that my constituents are deeply concerned about the increasing volume of empty homes in Haslingden and Hyndburn. In Hyndburn alone now stands at 2,500 plus - 7.6% of all houses or more bluntly one in every thirteen. In many neighbourhoods this figure is far higher.

Part of the problem of low demand is poor quality accommodation driving demand for new housing. The underlying frailties of the local economy has led to young people looking for work elsewhere and like many east Lancashire towns, population decline. In short more houses than people.

My meeting with the Minister was extremely positive and I believe I am making headway on this issue because it is important that positive solutions are found. Reporting a negative situation in itself does not solve the chronic problems. In short by regulating for higher standards, declining neighbourhoods may become more appealing.

I raised with the minister these points;
1. Poor housing standards (HHSRS primarily) mean higher standards cannot be enforced.
2. Differing standards for social housing (Decent Hones Standard) and private let housing (weak HHSR)
3. Ageing stock. Terraced, 100 years old, damp climate in need of huge repair.
4. 26.1% of private let housing with Category one hazards; 60% with Category 2 hazards.(2009 HBC Housing report)
5. Poor standards/quality were undermining the terraced property market.
6. Ill health as a consequence
7. Local Council cuts undermined enforcement
8. Landlord Licensing needs amending to include higher local /discretionary fitness standards
9. Local Councils cannot afford housing regeneration themselves any more
10. Woodnook scheme - pioneering - including 2 into 1's - but the last such of such schemes

And the changes I want to see are as follows;
1. Improved standards. Consideration of a DHS, replacing the HHSRS
2. More flexibility and freedoms with Landlord Licensing including fitness standards
3. Central Government funding for modern conversions of old housing (eg as in Woodnook)
4. Building Control departments to take responsibility for helping landlords improve properties.

The fact of the matter is that councils are unable to enforce the word of the law, because they simply do not have the funding to force bad landlords to take action to protect people who live in their properties. It is a sad truth that a great number of people are living in properties which do not meet Government standards for decent homes, nor do they even meet the more basic Housing Health and Safety Rating System. There are a tragically large number of landlords who are happy to take money from their tenants but refuse to use any of it to maintain their properties.

I raised the issue of the selective licensing of landlords, whereby local authorities are able to impose certain conditions on private sector landlords in areas of high levels of anti-social behaviour or whether there is unusually low demand in the market. However there is a missed opportunity here, which is the ability to use selective licensing as a means of forcing landlords to improve the standard of their properties, I talked with the Minister for some time about this, as I think it is potentially a means by which we can finally create a mechanism that will force all landlords with properties below the DHS to take responsibility for the properties.