At the moment, we face pressures with housing from just about every direction. Young professionals can’t afford to buy, families can’t afford rent rises, social housing can’t keep up with demand, and there’s even a shortage of emergency accommodation for homeless people.
It’s a problem affecting the whole South East – and some recent decisions from Whitehall are going to make the situation even tougher. You’ll have heard that the Government wants to extend the Right-to-Buy to housing associations. I understand why many current tenants welcome it, but reducing the stock of social housing will only make things worse for future generations.
On top of that, tenants are finding it harder and harder to rent in the private sector. Rents and property prices in Watford have gone up so much that many people can no longer afford the homes that they may have been renting for years. Evictions from the private rented sector now account for as many cases of homelessness as all other causes combined.
The benefits cap limits how much people can claim from benefits. Despite our proximity to London, people in Watford will only be able to receive the lower, non-London rate. I can understand the motivation to give value for money for taxpayers and ensure that work pays, but in practice these rules will mean that even more people cannot afford to pay their rent and will become homeless.
So, what can the Council do about it? The honest answer is “not as much as we’d like”. We can encourage developers to include affordable and social housing in their plans, and, by becoming partners in schemes like the Health Campus, we can deliver our target of 35% new units being social or affordable. HomeLet is working with private landlords to encourage them to rent to tenants on benefits and make it work for both parties. We also need to work with areas facing similar problems to convince the Chancellor that the higher rate for the benefit cap should apply to Watford and not just to London.
The Council is looking at any new schemes that will improve the situation, but the sad truth of it is there is just not enough housing in the South East. Watford only covers a small area, but we’ve done our bit and we’re already pretty densely populated – now we need our neighbouring areas to help take the strain. We’ve got to find ways of building while minimising disruption to existing communities. We need a massive regional building plan that will mean that our children can move out and start their own lives, and families no longer have to spend a year or more in temporary hostel accommodation.