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Time To Act Now To Tackle The Housing Crisis

21 February 2022

A stock image of houses on a residential street.

At the West Devon Borough Council meeting on Tuesday 15 February 2022, councillors agreed a motion to declare a housing crisis.

Now, Council Officers will put forward their plan to tackle the 15 core areas highlighted for action. This will be presented to the Hub Committee on 8 March.

The motion, proposed by West Devon Borough Council's Lead Member for Housing Cllr Barry Ratcliffe, called for recognition of the current difficulties in the housing market and the effect on the affordability of good quality housing within the borough.  

Councillors heard that house prices in the borough are the least affordable in Devon with average housing costs at over 12 times the average salary. An almost complete lack of long term rented accommodation was highlighted as one of the leading problems contributing to the crisis alongside the increasing trend for people to move to the area from urban locations.

Councillors also heard that whilst the Joint Local Plan is exceeding housing delivery targets, it is not enough to tackle the problem or provide the types of houses local people need, where they need, at a price they can afford. 

Cllr Barry Ratcliffe, West Devon Borough Council Lead Member for Housing said: "It's no secret the housing situation has reached crisis point in West Devon. There is almost no availability of long-term rental properties and what is out there has risen in price to become simply unaffordable for many. The average cost of buying a house has also shot up - now 12 times the average salary. If we don't act now, too many local people will be forced out of the area, away from their support network, family, friends and schools.

"By declaring a housing crisis, we recognise the urgency of the matter and acknowledge that we need new, creative ideas to bring us solutions. Whilst the Joint Local Plan is working well, and we are beating the targets for new houses, this national initiative it is not enough to match our current local situation. We need to look carefully at what sorts of housing we need in the borough and the best ways to increase availability. We've already increased our Tenant Incentive Scheme to give up to £5,000 to anyone who moves from a housing association house that is too big for their needs to a smaller property. And we need more initiatives like this if we are going to make a difference." 

There are 15 core actions identified to help resolve the crisis. They are:

  1. Demonstrate our commitment to the wellbeing of homeless people in the Borough by providing quality temporary accommodation (such as is proposed at Springhill Tavistock). Aim to reduce the need for less appropriate forms of temporary accommodation.
  2. Act where the Council has a land holding and take an interventionist approach to the housing market over the longer-term, where there is demonstrable housing need, leading to improved long term housing outcomes.
  3. Recognise the market failures locally around accommodation options for vulnerable people (exempt accommodation), work in close partnership with Devon County Council to provide alternatives - putting people before profit. At the same time lobby national government to make legislative changes to remove the incentives for unscrupulous providers and to protect the needs of this vulnerable group.
  4. Recognise the need for extra care accommodation in the Borough and ensure such schemes are supported to come forward.
  5. Actively contribute to 'Team Devon's' housing task force and housing commission to build the case for affordable housing as a key priority in any pan-Devon devolution ask.
  6. Lobby government through our MPs and the LGA to review the regulation of holiday accommodation. This will ensure all holiday accommodation is suitably regulated and made subject to local planning policies and taxes.  We should also appeal for an extension to the 90-day short term let legislation to be extended outside London and lobby DLUC for a separate planning class for short term lets and a proper licensing system to cater for them.
  7. As the Council moves towards a review of the JLP, aspire to the highest affordable housing threshold that is sustainable and underpin it in policy.
  8. Create a long term strategic partnership with a high quality Registered Provider to see the delivery of affordable-led housing at scale and over the long term in the Borough.
  9. Continue to work closely with our main Registered Providers to ensure best occupancy of stock. This is achieved not just by providing financial incentives for downsizing, but, where a step into home ownership may be possible, supporting tenants through a deposit grant scheme.
  10. Use any Section 106 affordable housing contributions as soon as possible to help fund developments anywhere in the Borough where the terms of the Section 106 Agreement permit this.
  11. As agreed at the last Hub Committee meeting, campaign for changes to the Broad Market Area to better reflect the costs of rents in West Devon. 
  12. Actively seek opportunities to invest in Council owned social housing with high sustainability specification (including modular housing) to support those on low incomes who are unable to afford 'affordable' rented housing.
  13. Aligned with our Climate Change Emergency, continue to fund (and bid for further national funding) improvements to existing private sector houses within the Borough. This recognises that housing is responsible for 40% of national CO2 emissions.
  14. Lobby MPs and Central Government to provide an incentive to landowners for the provision of land specifically for Local Needs Affordable Housing.  Giving landowners a tax break when providing land for affordable housing where there is an identified need, would, it is believed, help to release land at a reduced cost to support the small scale provision of affordable housing in our rural communities. 
  15. That, having declared a Housing Crisis (and recognising the importance of making quick progress), the ideas set out in points 1 to 14 of the substantive motion be given further consideration at:
  • A meeting of the Homes Hub Advisory Group;
  • An Informal Council session; and
  • future meetings of the Hub Committee and Full Council to be supplemented by published agenda reports and an evolving draft Action Plan.

West Devon Borough Council is currently asking for local views on plans to prevent and relieve homelessness.

A recent report to the Hub committee highlighted that single and couples households, families, and people with additional needs are all at high risk of homelessness and must be prioritised alongside rough sleepers. Now the Council want to know what local people think. The public consultation runs until 23 March 2022. You can have your say here: www.westdevon.gov.uk/homelessness-strategy-2022

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