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Homeless solutions

The latest statistics on homelessness make for depressing reading. The number of homeless households continues to increase; the number of households in temporary accommodation is up, and the number being re-housed in other areas of the country is a growing trend.With budget cuts set to continue, the problems can only get worse. And worse still, few councils really know what to do.The booming property market in London and the South East means capped Local Housing Allowance do not provide enough for many households to afford to stay in their homes. Alternative accommodation is scarce – in many London boroughs, only the bottom 10% of the housing market is affordable, which is not sufficient to meet demand (and of questionable quality).The only alternative for many London local authorities is temporary accommodation in B&Bs or homeless hostels. Each night, some 54,000 households stay in temporary accommodation and 4,000 families in B&Bs.But these are short-term, expensive solutions –unsettling and, frankly, unpleasant for tenants.So, as widely publicised, London councils are looking to move households to more affordable parts of the country –such as Birmingham and further North.Understandably, many residents are reluctant to uproot and move out of their local area. It’s not straightforward either – there are many criteria why residents cannot be moved (such as if social services are involved or if one of the people has a job).Of course, moving people to other parts of the country can simply displace issues by putting new pressures on the hosts local services – such as schools and GPs – as well as impacting their private rental market.All the while, in the middle are vulnerable families simply wanting a place to call home. Unfortunately, the future does not look bright – there is no magic fix and regardless of the General Election result next year.So where are the solutions to be found?John Taylor, Managing Director of Housing Management at Mears Group, says one is to bring empty homes back into use. According to the Empty Homes Agency, there are over 610,000 empty homes in England“100,000 of these are owned by local authorities,” says John. “Of course, there are reasons why some are empty – for example, being sold or renovated – but others are deemed too costly to repair, hard to let or stuck in stalled regeneration schemes.“But housing providers can help turn problem assets into potential positives. They can help evaluate their potential uses and come up with imaginative solutions.“Local authorities need to create partnerships with housing providers who can supply finance and expertise, and are also willing to get stuck in and get their hands dirty!”Earlier this year, Mears acquired the Omega Group, the largest provider of temporary accommodation and homelessness prevention schemes in England. For the past few years, Omega has been doing exactly this – regenerating properties by using their own finances to refurbish homes for homeless families. It is a double win for the council, says John.“The property is occupied, it has been brought up to a good standard, and they are not paying B&B bills – and all at very low risk to the council. And the benefit for homeless families is that they receive housing which is locally based.”Of course, the longer-term solution to homelessness is to build more homes. It’s commonly said that some 200,000 new homes a year are needed to keep up with demand of the general population. But how many of those are targeted at combating homelessness?“Very few housing providers want to specialise in homelessness,” says John.“Most aren’t building affordable housing, and nothing is being built or supplied for existing social housing developments.“With Omega, we have a huge amount of combined experience in building, maintaining and managing social housing, so we plan to provide more decent homes at affordable prices.”


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