Strategies devised to help people tackle their housing issues and provide support to County Durham’s homeless are being put forward for final approval next week.
Durham County Council has worked with partners to develop both a housing strategy and a homelessness strategy, with each going before the authority’s Cabinet for adoption at a meeting on Wednesday 10 July.
Cabinet is also being asked to approve the establishment of a lettings agency for County Durham which would help homeless people secure housing, following the success of a council funding bid.
The County Durham Housing Strategy seeks to provide a strategic framework to inform the actions and investment of the council and its partners, and contains a series of key messages setting out their delivery priorities and approach to addressing housing issues.
First and foremost, the strategy seeks to put people first by identifying the issues residents face in terms of housing and coming up with ways to address them.
Other key messages include:
• Raising standards across the private rented sector through seeking greater licencing powers to tackle problem landlords, as well as continuous engagement with landlords and the extension of the council’s private landlord accreditation scheme for responsible landlords;
• Delivering homes to meet the needs of older people within communities and supporting people to live independently for as long as possible;
• Working with those communities most affected by long term empty properties. This would include working with property owners and landlords with the aim of bringing empty properties back into use wherever possible;
• Maximising the delivery of affordable homes, both by securing developer contributions as part of new housing development and through close partnership working with registered providers and Homes England.
The strategy has been developed to ensure the council is well positioned to maximise future opportunities for funding support.
The County Durham Homelessness Strategy aims to set out a strategic approach and key priorities and actions towards preventing homelessness across County Durham over the next three years.
The strategy includes three overall aims and an action plan for each. The aims are as follows:
1. To prevent homelessness through early intervention, through provision of advice and a range of prevention tools.
2. To increase access to and the supply of accommodation for those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, by increasing the existing supply of accommodation and developing a proposal for a buy to lease scheme.
3. To provide a range of support services to reduce the risk of households becoming homeless, by ensuring monitoring systems are in place to understand need and working in partnership with agencies to access support services.
The council consulted on both strategies with the views of residents and other stakeholders sought.
Cabinet will be told that there was support for the key messages as set out in the housing strategy, and it was identified that greater content could be included setting out how the needs of people with disabilities can be met.
Councillors will also hear consultation responses for the homelessness strategy asked for more support services for young people and consideration of the health impact of poor housing and homelessness.
The meeting will be told that, as a result of the responses, changes have been made to both strategies, with the council having added an additional section to the housing document on support, adaptations and housing products for people with disabilities.
Cabinet is being asked to support a series of recommendations including provision for the housing strategy to be updated in future to respond to emerging issues as necessary.
The meeting is also receiving a report on the creation of the local lettings agency, which the council received £252,538 from the government’s Rapid Rehousing Pathway programme to establish.
The agency is being set up to support the many residents in the county who struggle to access housing due to previous issues such as rent arrears, who have asked for support to turn their lives around.
Many find themselves trapped with poor quality housing and conditions the only option available even though their circumstances have changed. This scheme provides the help and support with good quality homes to assist the process but also has the safeguards to ensure that communities and neighbours are not inconvenienced if it does not quite work out.
It is estimated that the agency will result in 70 additional tenancies per year.
Cabinet is being asked to agree recommendations including that the agency be established as a private company.
Cllr Kevin Shaw, the council’s cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “We are delighted to be in a position to adopt the housing and homelessness strategies – two very important documents which will help shape the future of our county.
“The housing strategy identifies not just the challenges we face but how best we can address them and this is by putting people first and importantly is it is also flexible which will enable us to respond to any future funding opportunities as they may arise.
“The homelessness strategy seeks to build on our successful existing approach of preventing homelessness through early intervention and providing any necessary support.
“We are also very pleased to be moving forward with the creation of the lettings agency, which will provide a new level of support and help homeless people secure housing, following our successful recent funding application.”
The agency was one of two projects for which the council received money from the Rapid Rehousing Pathway programme.
The fund has given £628,420 following an application by the council on behalf of ten local authorities around the North East for the establishment of an assessment centre which will give rough sleepers across the region immediate access to somewhere safe to stay while suitable housing is identified.