Hastings Borough Council’s leader has promised to resign his post if the council does not increase the number of homes it owns by 2023.
Peter Chowney (Lab, Tressell) made his promise in response to a question from Conservative councillor John Rankin at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday (January 24).
After asking for confirmation that the council would receive income from buying and renting residential properties at local housing allowance (LHA) rates, Cllr Rankin asked why his previous requests to consider buying homes had not been followed.
Cllr Rankin said: “My question is why haven’t we done more of this. We’ve bought one property I believe in Wellington Square, maybe some more I don’t know.
“Why have we not exploited this brilliant opportunity? It will make money for the council but, I think, more importantly it will reduce the money we spend on housing homeless people.
“It is a good thing to do. It is really good for the reputation of the council.”
In response, Cllr Chowney said: “It is a legitimate question and one I keep asking too.
“The reason is, we haven’t had the staff in place until recently to do that. Both in terms of legal staff and staff with the right experience and expertise in terms of buying properties.
“I’m just looking at some figures here which show our forecasts. By 2022/23 we are aiming to own 276 properties and 140 [by the end of 2019/20].
“I think we’ve got the programme in place now and there is clearly that incentive from, as you say, the need to reduce the spend on bed and breakfast accommodation, because it works much more cost effectively if you buy housing and put people in it.
“There is some flexibility, you can buy a house and it doesn’t have to be for temporary accommodation or rent. That is the advantage of using houses and not shipping containers or modular things that are specifically for homelessness temporary accommodation.
“I don’t know if officers want to comment on the reasons why we haven’t done as much of that as we all would have hoped we would, but I am determined that we will do now.
“It is something I will stake my reputation on if you like. If we haven’t done this, haven’t met those targets, then I’ll resign.”
Put simply, the Local Housing Allowance rate is the amount of money someone can claim in housing benefit if they rent from a private landlord.
It is set by the Government based on the cost of renting in a particular area. In Hastings for example, someone living in a one-bedroom self-contained flat can claim £92.05 for their rent per week- roughly equivalent to £368 per month.
It is also the amount of money the council can claim when housing a homeless tenant in temporary accommodation.
Due to a shortage of temporary accommodation places, Hastings Borough Council and other local authorities often have to rent rooms in hotels or guest houses to meet their legal duties to house homeless people.
More often than not, the cost of renting rooms is more than the LHA rates – with a council expected to fund the shortfall itself.
By buying its own property to rent out, Cllr Rankin argued, the council could reduce this cost and still bring in additional money despite not charging more than the LHA rates.