East Herts Council launches consultation on tackling housing crisis
East Herts is facing a growing housing crisis fuelled by homelessness, poor property conditions and an insufficient supply of affordable homes.
The district council has launched a consultation on a new strategy to 2026 to tackle the problem, but Bishop's Stortford town councillors are already concerned it does not go far enough. They discussed the proposals at their most recent planning and development committee meeting.
Cllr Bob Taylor said: "I don't think it goes far enough – it states the obvious. The plans going forward, both short term and long term, need to be tightened up."
He said the district council needed to make a "deeper input" to social housing to address its waiting list. At the end of March, 2,168 households were on the East Herts Housing Register.
Cllr Jill Sortwell said it was important to remember that total told only part of the story and that there was a greater demand for accommodation. She said: "It's no use building houses that local people cannot afford."
Cllr Richard Townsend said many in need did not qualify for inclusion on the register: "There's a growing gap." He also called on East Herts Council to make special provision in its strategy for key and blue-light workers.
EHC says it faces "a wide and diverse range of housing challenges, both familiar and newly arising". Demographic and population trends and changes brought by the Covid-19 pandemic are exacerbating its difficulties.
Those on the register include 1,100 households who need a one-bed property, 635 looking for two bedrooms, 334 waiting for three and 76 searching for four bedrooms. Demand for two- and four-bedroom accommodation has seen the most significant growth.
At the end of March EHC had 50 households in temporary accommodation under statutory homelessness duties: 19 were in its hostel accommodation, five in private sector leased accommodation and 26 in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation. A further 14 households were being provided with discretionary B&B accommodation under Government rough sleeper initiatives because of their vulnerability to Covid-19.
The council faces a growing number of single people with complex needs who require support, more households unable to move into registered accommodation because of affordability assessments and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which requires East Herts to help victims and their children.
Anti-social behaviour is also leading to homelessness – victims or witnesses often need to move and culprits also lose their accommodation.
At the same time, the private rented sector is becoming more inaccessible and unaffordable.
Across the district, the median market rent exceeds the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate, with the gap expanding as the number of bedrooms in a home increases. Many of those on benefits have to top up their rent from money which should be used for food and other bills.
Analysis by homelessness charity Shelter puts East Herts ninth in the top 10 local authorities outside London with the biggest shortfall between LHA and rents.
The council wants feedback on priorities it has already identified, those that are missing and any which should be removed from the strategy.
Cllr Peter Boylan, EHC's executive member for neighbourhoods, said: "We would encourage everyone to take part in the consultation and help shape the future of housing provision in the district. We'd like to work with residents to ensure the standard of the housing is at its best."
The consultation ends on Sunday September 5. To take part, see https://www.eastherts.gov.uk/housingconsultation.