Council cash to help homeless

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SCARBOROIUGH Council is hoping to include £750,000 in its financial strategy for the next 10 years to help housing associations repair empty properties to help house the homeless.

The proposal will be discussed at this morning’s cabinet meeting and, if approved, will be included in the agenda of next month’s meeting of the full council.

Last month councillors warned that more people could be left homeless in Scarborough due to proposed cuts in housing benefit – changes would reduce the amount of money that most private tenants in the borough are entitled to from April as the Government targets to cut housing benefit expenditure by £2 billion in the next two years.

In a report by Andy Skelton, the council’s head of environmental services, he said that the proposed change to the council’s empty homes grants policy would help support housing associations to buy long term empty properties – but the grants would be limited to a maximum of £50,000.

He added: “The maximum level of grant is payable per dwelling and that this grant should not exceed more than 50 per cent of the total cost of the purchase, repair or conversion of that dwelling.

“As a condition of the grant award, the registered social landlord (RSL) is required to enter into a 25 year agreement with the council, giving the Council 100 per cent nomination rights. Dwellings brought back into use can only be used by the RSL as temporary accommodation for homeless.”

And the report also stated that £750,000 would be included in the council’s Financial Strategy 2011-21 and it would provide the grant payments to match contributions from housing associations – it would be funded by an increase in borrowing which would be repaid from savings achieved on the cost of temporary accommodation and would be paid back over the next 10 years.

The proposal follows the sale of the council’s former homeless hostel in Alma Square, which was known as Newburn House, which is worth between £175,000 and £200,000 and was managed for the council by Yorkshire Coast Homes.

Mr Skelton said: “Over the years the council has struggled to adequately finance the maintenance of this building and it has fallen into a state of disrepair. The building was closed in 2009. Whilst this building has an established use as a homeless hostel, it is the view of your officers that the most cost effective option open to the council is to sell this property on the open market.

“This is because the total cost of the required work to bring the property back into use to a minimum standard that meets the council’s/RSL’s requirements housing is high. Costs have been received from two RSLs – York Housing and Home Housing – and both have indicated that the cost of bringing the property back into use to meet minimum standards is in the region of £410,000.

“Total scheme costs for its sale and acquisition by an RSL would thus equate to around £615,000.”

The council has a legal obligation to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people and up to now this has been tackled by the use of bed and breakfast accommodation and privately leased accommodation.

At the end of last month there were 60 households in temporary accommodation with 23 families staying at Kelia Court and a further 37 single people in B&B.

Last year the council spent £199,000 on providing B&B accommodation and it has been forecast that it will cost £224,000 – based on current levels of use and the changes to housing benefit which will be introduced in April.

Changes to housing benefit would mean that single people under 35 would only be paid benefit for a single room in a shared house which would greatly increase the need for shared accommodation and

houses in multiple occupation. However, it is unknown whether the existing supply of shared housing within the borough will meet the increase in need.