Affordable homes for local people

Wealden District Council has just approved its new Housing Strategy which sets out the work being done to increase the supply of affordable homes for local people.

The Strategy for 2017-2020 also highlights the work to improve the quality of local housing and providing housing advice to individuals and communities.  As well as describing the challenges faced by people looking to get on the property ladder, including a current lack of one-bedroom properties, the widening gap between average incomes and house prices.

The report refers to the lack of one bedroom properties, particularly in Crowborough, which has a higher proportion of larger (and 5+ bedroom) properties.

The Council has established Sussex Weald Homes Ltd to help fill the gaps where developers are not currently providing enough suitable homes.  Particularly for younger people wishing to get a foot on the housing ladder and older people who want to downsize.

The Council has recently obtained planning permission on the old council depot off Forest Dene in Jarvis Brook for a development of 34 homes, including one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom houses.

The number of households on the waiting list for housing is 1012 (as at September 2016).

Councillor Graham Wells, Wealden Cabinet member for Housing, said:

The new Housing Strategy has given us the opportunity to incorporate both local and national policy changes of which there have been quite a few, as well as a private sector housing renewal strategy.  As well as continuing to build new council houses for rent through the Council’s housing revenue account, Wealden has set up Sussex Weald Homes, a wholly Council-owned company, to build a range of homes to target the first-time buyer and those who want to down-size.

We have had insufficient details about the recently announced additional funding from Government to build more social houses to include in this strategy, but it reinforces our continued desire to build more homes.

Wealden continues to have high levels of home ownership, high demand for social housing, high property prices and a high proportion of detached and larger properties.

To increase housing supply the Council is looking to identify sites for up to 11,500 new homes in its emerging draft local plan, ensure levels of affordable housing are built both within and outside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the 35% affordable housing contribution for larger developments, and encourage the supply of smaller one- and two-bedroomed homes.  It is continuing to build council houses, with up to 160 new homes scheduled in Phase Two of its new build scheme, subject to planning and finances.

The Council also seeks to buy back ex-council houses which have been purchased through Right-To-Buy, as well as other properties if affordable; bring empty homes back into use and continue to tackle housing fraud through checks on housing applicants and tenancy audits.

The average Wealden house price is nearly 11 times more than the average resident’s income, which compares to the average in the South East of 8.5%.  But, with a lack of housing for sale priced at an entry level, the situation is worst for first time buyers.  Research by Shelter showed that for Wealden first-time buyers this ‘affordability gap’ was over 13%.

The Council’s 2014 Strategic Housing Market Assessment identified the need for 331 affordable houses a year to be built in the District.

When the draft strategy went out to consultation, 89% of respondents supported its aims of Increasing Housing Supply, 94% Improving Housing Quality and 89% plans to Support for Individuals and Communities.

The Wealden Housing Strategy 2017-20 also highlights the Council’s record to date:

  • In 2014/15, 604 new homes were built across the District, including 193 affordable homes.
  • In 2015/16, 520 new homes were built, including 172 affordable homes.
  • During this period the Council built 64 new council homes and purchased six properties and a 21 unit scheme for older people.

It also continued to invest in the District’s housing stock of more than 3,000 homes.  It spent £7.3 million in the last two years on capital improvements to property including new kitchens, bathrooms, boilers, windows and insulation.

Through its Community and Environmental Budget, it spent £130,564 in 2014/15 and £100,000 in 2015/16 on a variety of projects ranging from sports and play facilities, notice boards, parking, community facilities, buggy shelters for retirement living courts, garden improvements and shared equipment for sheltered schemes.

The Council continues to fund adaptations to properties to both Council-owned and private homes through the Disabled Facilities Grants.  In 2014-16, there were 241 major adaptations including stair lifts and level access showers.

Through the Strategy, the Council will continue to improve housing quality.  This includes the redevelopment of retirement living courts at Uckfield, investing up to £250,000 every year in adaptations to Council properties and ensuring all Council properties have double glazed windows and doors, cavity wall and sufficient loft insulation.

The Wealden Housing Strategy 2017-20 was approved by Cabinet on 18th October and a copy of the Strategy can be downloaded here.

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