Homelessness and housing need in Wokingham Borough

Homelessness and Housing Need in Wokingham Borough

The impacts of housing far outreach those of the physical shelter they provide.  Housing can influence and have significant impacts on both physical and mental health.

         

For those people that are homeless the impacts are even greater. People who are homeless are not just those that are rough sleeping, people may also be considered homeless if they:

  • Live somewhere where they have no legal right to stay, such as a squat
  • Live in a home they can’t afford to pay for without depriving themselves of basic essentials
  • Are forced to live apart from your family or someone you would normally live with because their accommodation isn't suitable      

Wokingham Housing Strategy


The Council has a Housing Strategy for the period 2015 to 2018. It identified the following five strategic priorities for housing - 

  • Addressing our Housing Needs
  • Supporting Vulnerable People
  • Tackling Homelessness and Housing Need
  •  Enhancing Tenant Services
  • Expanding Opportunities

Over the next 2-3 years, we aim to complete 1,000 additional affordable homes across a range of tenures. To support this, the Council has established Wokingham Housing Limited (WHL), a wholly Council-owned Company and one of the first of its kind in the country, to deliver well designed, high quality and sustainable housing. WHL has already completed its first development at Hillside Park in Shinfield. Further schemes have a planning consent, including the redevelopment of the former Fosters care home into modern extra care housing and the regeneration of Eustace Crescent (now Phoenix Avenue), which is on-site.

     

Many of the new affordable homes coming forward will be secured through the planning process on private developments (predominantly on the SDLs). However, the Council is playing an increasingly proactive role in enabling new homes to be developed throughout the Borough. To facilitate this, the Council is securing financial payments (commuted sums) instead of on-site affordable housing on some private schemes to help fund affordable housing elsewhere in the Borough. This will allow the Council to bring forward a wider range of sites for affordable housing development, including regeneration projects, thus supporting sustainable communities.

         

80% of Wokingham Borough residents own their home either outright or with a mortgage (ONS, 2013g), as shown by the figure above. The affordability of housing within the Borough presents a significant challenge: the average house price is 84% higher than the national average. This represents a house price to income ratio of around 8.0 (Shelter, 2015). In order for a family to afford a mortgage for the average house, assuming at 20% deposit of £70,000, they would need an income of over £61,000.  For a one bedroom private rental to be affordable, residents need a minimum annual income of £23,800 (the average cost of private rented accommodation from 2011 is below). 


There is a significant shortfall in the number of new affordable houses comparable to the local requirement: 390 need to be completed every year. The development of the Strategic Development Locations (SDLs) provides a good opportunity to increase the volume of affordable houses available; we aim to have completed a further 1,000 units between 2015 and 2018, including social rented accommodation and shared ownership opportunities. 



Housing tenure

Homelessness

Homelessness is presenting as a growing area of need to the Council, as shown by figure 1 below. This is as a result of the cost of housing in the Borough increasing and the availability of affordable, accessible privately rented accommodation shrinking. There are progressively limited private rental accommodation options as landlords end assured short hold tenancies (perhaps to sell and realise equity), this is in line with the national picture. There are fewer private rented housing opportunities where the rent level is in line with the Local Housing Allowance rates (the level at which Housing Benefit is assessed), this further exacerbates the issue.

     

Figure 1 below shows some of the latest statistics for homelessness in the Borough. Evidence shows that those who have poor housing choices also have reduced life outcomes and so we need to ensure that as the needs of the population alter so does the service provided. It is likely that as the population of the Borough increases, and the cost of housing continues to rise, the number of those who are in extreme housing need will increase.

     

Due to the recent increase in homelessness in the Borough (reflecting the national trend), we are investing in additional good-quality affordable options for temporary accommodation to reduce reliance on expensive “out of Borough” provision.  Wokingham Borough recognises that accessibility to good quality advice and assistance is as important as the bricks and mortar, so that where possible homelessness can be prevented and poor housing situations improved. As a consequence of this Wokingham Borough have recruited a Housing Adviser to work specifically with young people and help them with their housing difficulties and prevent homelessness and crises wherever possible. 

 

Figure 1 – Homelessness in the Borough between 2005 and 2015         

Homelessness

Rough Sleeping

As homelessness has increased, so has rough sleeping in our Borough.

Influencing factors that can result in homelessness and rough sleeping include:

  • Lack of access to affordable first-rung privately rented accommodation or direct access emergency accommodation
  • Limited options due to substance misuse or chaotic lifestyles
  • Relationship and family breakdown  

Organisations in the Borough (e.g. WBC Housing Needs, Salvation Army, Police) are working together to consider how to help individuals at both the personal and strategic levels. This work is currently in its early days (started in December 2015) but the co-ordinated approach based on up to date, validated information ensures a local multi-agency focus on this growing concern in our Borough.

     

Housing Register

In our Housing Register we have an active and up to date record of local housing need and are able to efficiently fill any vacancies in social housing that arise (either council or Housing Association). New affordable housing that is being developed on our Strategic Development Locations (SDL) will contribute greatly to our ability to re-house those in housing need on the Housing Register.

     

The number of households on the waiting lists is decreasing (see figure 2).  This trend has continued, due to a re-registering exercise this year (2015/16) numbers on the register have reduced. Despite this reduction the levels of urgent need (e.g. for urgent medical or social reasons) have not decreased.


Figure 2 - Households on the Council housing waiting lists

Council waiting list

WBC As Landlord

As a stock-retaining council our aim is to provide good quality homes that are managed effectively via a service that provides good value for money. Our programme to ensure that our homes meet the “decency standard” has meant that 94 percent  meets the Decent Homes Standard. 

 

As well as the traditional service functions such as Housing Officer, we have invested in two Tenancy Sustainment Workers. These officers provide an extra support to our vulnerable tenants and have had great successes (recognised nationally) in helping people keep their homes and make improvements to the quality of their lives. These officers provide a safety net to people who may otherwise find themselves in difficulty and could potentially lose their homes. 

 

As house prices are so high, accessibility to house-purchase for young people is very difficult. 

         

Private rents charged across the Borough are extremely high especially compared with Council or Housing Association Rents  and so low income working families in the private rented sector can be disadvantaged by this difference.

     

  • Currently Wokingham Borough Council is placing many households accepted as homeless outside its borough boundaries. By doing this we are compounding the problems for households, many with children, in housing crisis.

  • Research shows that individuals and families suffering from homelessness on fair badly against the general population on employment, mental and long term physical health.

  • There are also community impacts, rough sleeping, street drinking and begging are an increasing issue in Wokingham.

  • Wokingham Borough Council has an aspiration to be self-sufficient for its homeless accommodation in the 16/17 financial year. This is a very difficult task but one we are aiming to achieve.