Councillor Hugo Pound, Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning introduced Stuart Clifton, Housing Services Manager who presented the report set out in the agenda.
Before questions and to help aide Member discussion, a summary of the comments raised at the Communities and Economic Development Cabinet Advisory Board was given:
- Properties would be sought with the minimum EPC standard, with the aim of aspiring to those with a higher than minimum EPC standard.
- Properties would be sought that required as little refit as possible.
- Properties would be available to those on the Housing waiting list and assessed against the Council’s current policy.
- Properties would not be purchased outside the Borough.
- The scheme required the purchase of 1 x 4 bedroom property, with the rest likely to be either 2 or 3 bedroom properties.
- It was anticipated that the Council would be able to find properties within the prescribed budget set.
- Only s106 money could be used for the scheme.
- If the Council failed to find all the properties, it was likely that a proportion of the money would have to be returned to Central Government.
Questions from Members included the following:
- Acquiring properties with an average purchase price of £300k would be challenging. Properties would also need to meet certain criteria, e.g. close to amenities, schools, transport and close to local communities. This would probably mean the more rural areas of the Borough would be unsuitable.
- Ultimately, the key driving factor would be affordability.
- Given the tight timescales there would be no time to build new properties for this scheme. Existing housing stock would be used.
- An additional £20k per property would be available for other capital costs, including ensuring the property was sustainable.
- In terms of ongoing support, the Council had a Ukrainian Support Team, there was also support from the voluntary sector. With regards to the Afghan families, Kent County Council working with the Home Office were in the lead.
- There was a strong social network for Ukrainian families.
- Government had not given any guidance to Councils in respect of how long families would be housed in these properties, but instead would allow Councils to be flexible in their approach depending on local need.
- The Council’s minimum contribution to the scheme would be £2.8m. It could choose to add more s106 money but it was unlikely that the Council would use all its available s106 money for one scheme.
- The £300k per property (for 14 of the 15 properties) was an average price, so there was flexibility depending on the price of each property found. The Government were contributing 50% for the 4 bedroom property so this would be dealt with separately.
- The scheme required the Council to provide 1 four bedroom house.
- If the Council was unable to acquire all 15 properties a proportion of the funding would be returned to Central Government.
- The Government’s contribution amounted to £120k per property so this would be the likely figure that would have to be returned should the Council deliver less than the 14 properties prescribed (1 x 4 bedroom property would be treated differently).
- The contribution from Government for the 4 bedroom property was higher so the amount that would have to be returned would be higher, approximately £285k (for a total property value of £570k).
- If the 4 bedroom property was the only property the Council was unable to deliver, it would need to seek guidance from the programme organisers.
- The Council would seek advice and help from other stakeholders e.g. Town and Country Housing when looking for suitable, available properties.
- Help from the Parishes would be very welcome.
- The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been provided by Government and just required signing (subject to Cabinet approval).
- The scheme had been offered to those Authorities with significant pressures and included all the districts in Kent and Medway.
- The Government had allowed for regional differences in house prices.
- The figure of 15 properties was from Central Government.
- The Council’s ambition was the properties would be set at the social rent rate. If families were not working, they would receive additional benefits e.g. Universal Credit.
- The current view was that the Ukrainian families would return to Ukraine. The outlook for the Afghan families at the moment was less clear. However, current thinking was that Afghan families would aspire to finding work, their own properties and settle in the UK in the long term.
- The Council was loathe to use all its available s106 money as there were other initiatives in the Borough that would benefit from this money.
- The use of s106 money was defined within the individual developer agreements and could only be used for this purpose if it was in accordance with the agreement.
- It would be important to ensure that the s106 money was being used correctly.
- The programme was to deliver family sized accommodation so it was unlikely that flats would be appropriate. Additionally, it was unlikely the Council would look to leasehold properties, preferring instead to use freehold properties.
- The MOU included details of the sum of money the Government would be providing.
- Town and Country were not listed as a partner as the preference was to keep all the Council’s options open.
RESOLVED – That the recommendations to Cabinet be supported.