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29 October 2014

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    Over our Heads
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    Is there such a thing as affordable housing in St Albans? We spoke to Linda Middleton, Housing Policy Officer at St Albans District Council to find out what the Council is doing to provide social housing in one of the country's most expensive housing areas.

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    In 2002, a St Albans District Council survey showed that the minimum income at the time to access the housing market was around £35K per year.

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    How is the current housing situation in St Albans?
    The main problem we have is one of affordability. St Albans is a very attractive area for people to live. House prices are very high in the district and it makes it very difficult for people on an average wage to get into the housing market. We did a housing survey in 2002 and that showed that the minimum income at the time to access the housing market was around £35K per year.

    What is the District Council doing to combat this situation?
    We adopted supplementary planning guidance on affordable housing in March 2004.

    This means we've increased the percentage of affordable housing that we seek to negotiate on development sites from 25 per cent to 35 per cent.

    We are also spending some of our own money in subsidising affordable housing through housing associations. For example we are using a housing association to purchase five properties on the open market, which will be used for affordable housing.

    We are also looking to develop housing on our own land where ever we can. We have a site in Wheathampsted which has planning permission to build three affordable houses. We have transferred the land free of charge to the housing association to assist in the delivery of those.

    Is there still council housing as such and how do people become eligible?
    Yes, there is still council housing. We have just over 5,000 properties that are owned and managed by the council.

    People have to apply to us to go on our waiting list and their housing needs are assessed.

    We currently have over 1,600 applicants on the housing register who are not currently housed by us and over 750 who are housed by us but wish to transfer.

    There are also 117 families currently housed in temporary accommodation who we hope to find permanent homes for within nine months.

    Council housing and all affordable housing is allocated according to the need, so we look at things like a person's current housing circumstances, their family, their income and what they are looking for.

    What is affordable housing and how does the District Council fit in?
    Housing associations are independent of the council. They are not for profit organisations and are registered by the Housing Corporation which is a government organisation.

    The main differences are based on governance; housing associations are managed by a board of directors who are not paid, whereas the council stock is managed directly by the council and the policies are set by the councillors.

    There are other differences concerning having a housing association tenancy and a council tenancy, like the right to buy.

    Council tenants have the right to buy, but housing associations tenants only have the right to acquire.

    The discount for purchase is not as high for right to acquire and some houses are excluded from sale.

    Also the rent levels are possibly slightly higher in housing association properties but we are all working towards something called 'Target Rent' which aims to bring all rentals in line with each other.

    Is social housing just available for Key Workers?
    There is something called key worker housing which has really come to importance in the last two or three years and the government has set aside specific funding for these schemes. They have a programme called key worker living.

    In Hertfordshire we have a zone agent for key worker housing who are Lea Valley Homes. They act as a one stop shop for key workers.

    Key worker housing is part of an affordable housing solution but it is aimed at specific employee groups, including teachers, police officers, fire officers, healthcare workers and district council employees.

    The District Council employees are included in our definition of key workers but they are not included in the government's version. We can only house local authority staff on schemes which haven't been funded by the government.

    How is housing, both council and affordable, arranged in order of priority?
    A lot of housing association properties are offered to people on the council's waiting list because we have something called nomination rights.

    Normally, for the first letting on a new development, the council would have 100 per cent nomination rights. So everybody that's housed there will have been nominated through the local authority.

    What usually happens is that percentage then drops over time to 75 per cent. Housing associations keep the other 25 per cent which gives them some freedom of moving their own tenants around.

    But they all allocate their housing to people in housing need. Some housing associations keep separate waiting lists, but some don't a rely solely on the local authority to nominate people.

    However, all of them will operate an allocation policy which people can ask for to see exactly how they sort housing needs.

    What the council's requirements for housing asylum seekers?
    We don't have a specific requirement for housing asylum seekers in St Albans; we are not one of the local authorities that has actually been designated to receive them.

    The last time I was asked a question about that, I think we had probably housed three families over the last four years that you could say were asylum seekers. But they would have had local connections with the area.

    We are not an authority that has an allocation of asylum seekers we have to house.

    With house prices continuing to rise, do you think that the supply and demand for housing can ever be met?
    The housing need survey we did in 2002 showed that we had an annual shortfall of 897 affordable homes, that is a target that we cannot hope to meet.

    In the current district plan, which is very old, the target for affordable houses is 200 and that is not a target we've met.

    This current year we will actually have over 200 new affordable houses coming on stream, but built by housing associations with developers.

    The Napsbury site is going to provide 145 of those, but we also have a development off Burnside which is on local authority land providing 36 properties for rent.

    The old Godfery Davis site will also provide 25 units of affordable housing. There is also a key worker scheme on Camp Road which will provide 22 properties.

    How do you see the future of housing in the district? What needs to be improved?
    I think the main problem for the local authority in the future is trying to ensure there is a supply of affordable housing coming forward each year.

    We are negotiating with developers but the affordable housing provision does need funding.

    The government are currently about to announce their spending review so we don't know what's in for housing in the future.

    There has been a commitment to key worker housing which I think will continue, but what is important is that you don't forget the other housing needs.

    We hope that funding will come forward for rented housing and for shared ownership as well. This does meet the need of quite a few people who can't purchase 100 per cent but can get on the property ladder by buying a percentage.

    Comment on this story

    Steve, Manchester Wednesday, 17-Nov-2004 15:53:16 GMT
    I fail to understand how the politicians have been allowed to get away with the mis-management of the housing situation. The current situation is just transferring money from the have-nots to the "have more than enoughs". We are not seeing the fact that cost is not the same thing as value; increasing the cost of something does not increase it's value in use. The highest demand is for small, affordable properties, so why are we still giving planning permission for large 4/5+ bedroom houses?





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