Have your say: tackling homelessness in the South Hams

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Have your say: tackling homelessness in the South Hams

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Have you or friends or family faced homelessness? With spiralling local rents and the increasing cost of living, are you concerned about how you or others can put a roof over your heads? Now is your chance to have your say on how the Council prevent and relieve homelessness with the launch of a six-week public consultation.

The district is currently in the midst of a housing crisis.  A recent council report highlights that there are four types of household who are at high risk of homelessness. It outlines that single and couples households, families, and people with additional needs must also be prioritised alongside rough sleepers to tackle the issue effectively.

A preliminary consultation with councillors took place at the start of 2022 to discuss ways to effectively prevent and relieve homelessness in the area. Working with partners to put the necessary support in place to prevent people from becoming homeless remains a significant focus. The plans also highlight the need to ensure there are enough of the right sort of homes available to meet the diverse needs of people at risk of homelessness. For example, identifying effective new ways to increase the availability  of affordable family-size homes in the district. This includes offering a financial incentive to under-occupiers to downsize, and working with private landlords to increase the availability of more affordable private rented homes.

The consultation gives local people the opportunity to have their voice heard. This will help make sure the proposed plans cover the right priorities and will meet the needs of everyone in the community. The results will be collated and used to inform a new Homelessness Strategy, which is due for review.

Cllr Judy Pearce, South Hams District Council’s Executive Member for Housing said: “Your views really matter. Taking part in this consultation will only take a few minutes of your time but could make all the difference for many people and help our communities to thrive.

“Whilst working with partner agencies to support people who are sleeping rough will always be a vital part of our homelessness strategy, we know there are more layers to the issue of homelessness. Increasing rental prices coupled with a rise in the cost of living means more and more local people find themselves at risk of having nowhere to live.

“People are relying on staying with friends and family to keep themselves in the area close to schools and jobs - something that just isn’t sustainable.  They may be forced to move away because they cannot find affordable homes locally, and we face the very real threat of many people who carry out essential jobs, like caring, leaving our area and leaving a huge void.

“Our homelessness strategy aims to do something about that. It is part of our five year Housing Strategy and specifically looks at the needs of all people who may be faced with homelessness, including those being priced out of our area.

“In our Better Lives for All plan we have promised local people that no one should find themselves without a roof over their head. Now we need your help to deliver that promise. Taking part in our consultation will help us to understand local issues even better so our plans truly meet local needs. Please do spare a few minutes to get involved – it could make all the difference to your children, neighbours and friends.”

Helping people who are sleeping rough

The Council works extensively with people who are sleeping rough to provide support and housing options. Working with multiple agencies, this approach finds a suitable long-term home for someone who is homeless. By ensuring people are engaged with support from partner areas, it also significantly increases their chances of keeping the accommodation and making positive life choices. While not everyone chooses to take up this offer, the mix of intensive support, outreach work and open offer of accommodation has resulted in low numbers of people sleeping rough in the District. At the last rough sleeper count in November, two rough sleepers were identified, a reduction from the seven counted three years ago. 

Tackling the shortage of affordable local homes

In September 2021, South Hams District Council declared a Housing Crisis. 12 points of action were set out. These are:

  • The District Council will lobby government, through MPs and the Local Government Association, to allow a Council Tax charge on housing plots with planning permission if they have not been built after a specified period. This would encourage developers to get on and build their sites without delay.
  • They will also lobby Government to review all holiday accommodation. This would ensure that it is properly regulated, complying with local planning policies and taxes. This could include an extension of the 90-day short let legislation, a proper planning class for short lets and proper licencing for them. This would prevent people finding loopholes in the taxation system and prevent too many local homes being converted to holiday accommodation.
  • The Council should also immediately review all holiday letting in the District to ensure that the owners are paying the correct amount for the removal of waste and recycling. Businesses should not be on the normal domestic recycling and waste collection.
  • South Hams District Council will also ask the Joint Local Plan project team to review the amounts of affordable housing in the Joint Local Plan and see if this can be increased, so that the percentage of "First Homes" on a development is in addition to the existing requirement for 30% affordable housing.
  • The District Council already runs a letting agency to encourage landlords to make properties available for local families in need. There should be further promotion of this and regular landlord forums to encourage more properties to become available.
  • The District Council works closely with registered providers on many housing projects across the District; they will now be working with them to ensure the best use of those properties, such as to encourage tenants to downsize where possible and make larger properties available for larger households.
  • In addition to this, the District Council is proposing to use some of the affordable housing revenue to increase payments made to those tenants downsizing to make the move more attractable and affordable.
  • The Council is committed to using Section 106 affordable housing contributions as soon as possible, to help fund developments anywhere in the District where the terms of the Section 106 agreements will allow.
  • The Council also wants to campaign for changes to the Broad Market Area, to better reflect the costs of rents in the South Hams.
  • The Council would encourage the development of an exemplar site of low carbon modular housing such as ZEDpods, to show that developments like this can be both stylish and great to live in.
  • South Hams District Council also agreed to actively seek opportunities to invest in Council owned social housing with highly sustainable specification.
  • To lobby Government to allow local councils to be able to charge 200% Council Tax on second / holiday homes, as they do in Wales.

The proposed action to offer a financial incentive to encourage under-occupiers to downsize was implemented in January and has generated significant interest. And in January, the Government announced it would close the second homes tax loophole, a change the Council had actively campaigned for.

More details on the proposals and a quick questionnaire where you can share your views can now be found at www.southhams.gov.uk/homelessness-strategy

The consultation will close on 23 March 2022.

It is anticipated that a final draft of the strategy will be presented in Early Spring, with formal adoption from April 2022.

 

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