The purpose of the report is to summarise the draft Housing Strategy and Implementation Plan, set out responses received to the consultation and invite the comments of Scrutiny Board. The views of Scrutiny Board, together with consultation responses, will be reported to Cabinet when the draft Housing Strategy is considered for final approval.
The report before the Scrutiny Board provided a summary of the draft Housing Strategy, Implementation Plan and detailed responses received to the associated public consultation exercise. The Scrutiny Boards views on the draft Housing Strategy were sought, prior to a report being submitted to Cabinet in 2023 where final approval for the Housing Strategy will be sought.
An Executive Summary, Draft Housing Strategy and Implementation Plan were provided for Members at appendices 1, 2 and 3 to the report. The Draft Housing Strategy covers the 10-year period 2023-2033. The proposed vision is that:
‘Everyone in the Borough is able to access housing at the point of need and has opportunities to create sustainable homes in thriving communities.
The report was introduced by the Strategic Housing Lead, who highlighted the respective sections of the report addressing the 10 year housing strategy 2023-2033, implementation plan, summary of intentions and commitments, housing vision, local ambitions in key areas, a breakdown of public consultation responses received and their outcomes, recurring themes arising from public consultation (e.g. housing links to health and social care, green economy and aging population), finance and partnership arrangements.
The Strategic Housing Lead also invited Members comments against the areas of the Draft Housing Strategy which addressed:
· Key Housing Challenges
· Draft Housing Strategy gaps/omissions
Having received the introduction to the report, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several related and pertinent questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters:
Councillor Mrs Holl-Allen referenced the detail in the report alluding to ambition in relation to ‘good housing options’ and choices and queried what was the perceived balance across the housing stock when catering for the over 75’s. The Strategic Housing Lead stated that options and choice for this demographic in the community was important and spanned options from continued independent living in the individuals own home to specialised accommodation. Furthermore, the importance of people being able to make early decisions regarding their future housing requirements was also fully recognised.
Councillor Ryan questioned how the Draft Housing Strategy would be delivered, by whom, how would delivery be measured and by whom, and how would the strategy make best use of the boroughs existing housing stock. Councillor Ryan stated that regarding the issue of housing affordability and provision of social rented housing, the draft strategy did not address these issues with adequate substance. The social rented housing stock shortage was acute in the borough, resulting in accommodating some residents outside of the borough in temporary accommodation located in West Bromwich, which was not satisfactory. Councillor Ryan further observed that people ultimately aspired to access private freehold housing and questioned how the strategy would support delivery of this, how would the strategy be delivered, by whom, over what timeline and how would its outputs be measured.
Councillor Mackiewicz (CPH Climate Change, Planning and Housing) noted that housing themes effectively ran through all the Councils Directorates and strategies, citing examples of the Councils Local Plan and young carers strategy. The housing strategy would bring together many different strategy’s and tie them together, providing a framework for other departments to feed into to form one coherent strategy.
Members were advised by the Strategic Housing Lead that the 10- year housing strategy would provide a guiding light in terms of its aspirations and objectives, rather than the fine detail. The Housing Strategy in the whole would involve all Council directorates, SCH, private landlords and Housing Associations all working together to deliver good housing options for the borough (as well as addressing related policy objectives such as health inequalities). It should also be noted that the Implementation Plan tended to identify future areas for further improvement through the delivery of the housing strategy.
Councillor Thomas concurred with Councillor Ryan’s summary of the draft housing strategy and went on to highlight that only 56% of Council properties had an EPC. Councillor Thomas further highlighted the following issues:
· The Draft Housing Strategy required defined deliverables/ targets, objectives, associated timelines.
· Temporary (hotel) Accommodation was challenging, with the 56-day statutory period for housing investigations to be complete frequently leading to longer residency in temporary accommodation. If the Council could complete its due diligence within the statutory timescales it would allow for people to be moved into permanent accommodation.
· Affordable Housing, the Governments definition did not equate to affordable in practical terms, which raised the potential of linking the boroughs definition of affordable with wages/salary.
· Affordable Housing and young people, greater emphasis was required within the draft housing strategy to address this specific policy area. Councillor Thomas viewed this issue as the biggest, single challenge the borough had to face as a housing issue.
· Quality of Housing, specifically temporary accommodation, was too poor and unfit and the norms associated with housing quality had to be challenged.
The Strategic Housing Lead advised the Scrutiny Board that the issue of affordable housing had been identified and included within the draft housing strategy at priority eight (which were not arranged in priority order within the strategy). It was acknowledged that supporting young people on to the housing ladder was challenging, with SCH having developed new build shared ownership schemes and the Council developing DIY shared ownership schemes in response. Furthermore, provision of shared ownership opportunities was also explored through Section 106 Agreements wherever possible.
Councillor Mackiewicz (CPH Climate Change, Planning and Housing) informed the Scrutiny Board that Cabinet had approved the Councils approach towards the securing of first homes for the borough’s residents.
The Chief Executive, SCH acknowledged Councillor Thomas’ previous reference to the 56-day rule and advised that this was a statutory requirement within a prescribed, legal framework, which could not be challenged at a management level. However, efforts could be taken forward to complete the due diligence process sooner that at present. In terms of the use of temporary hotel accommodation, it was the case that in some cases there was no alternative to using this type of temporary housing provision.
Councillor Qais noted the references to partnership working and delivery within the draft housing strategy and questioned how ownership of delivery across the various draft housing objectives would be ensured. The Strategic Housing Lead clarified that responsibility for delivery would vary from area to area, with some responsibilities allocated to specific partnership boards and social housing providers; for example, for housing delivery, older people, promotion of good management standards and locality working.
Regarding Housing Associations, the importance of their role as significant stakeholders was fully recognised. Members were advised that the new regulatory regime was scheduled to be implemented in early 2023 in respect of the letting and management of properties to ensure excellent service provision alongside existing SCH delivery arrangements.
Councillor Pinwell sought clarification as to whether partners had been consulted on the draft housing strategy at this stage and was informed by the Strategic Housing Lead that they had. In practical terms some partners were more integral to the Council and SCH in the development of the draft strategy than may be the case with certain others, as the draft strategy was expansive covering areas such as the private rented sector, affordable social rented sector, enforcement and regulatory responsibilities.
Councillor McLoughlin stated that there was nothing substantive in the Improvement Plan and questioned the figure given of 10,000 properties as comprising the SCH housing stock portfolio. As regards the type of housing provision available to older people, Councillor McLoughlin questioned whether in the case of marketed retirement properties older people were in effect being exploited through having to pay a range of fees. Furthermore, the concentration of dedicated retirement developments and marketed properties for the elderly had the capacity to change both the demographic and appearance of a locality, as was the case in Shirley.
Councillor McLoughlin stated that less than 40% of people located outside of the London region downsized their property, with only a minority of people being in the position to downsize to pay for their social care needs. As such, there was no clear question regarding how much, or what type of housing needs was required to address this element of the housing strategy. Furthermore, Councillor McLoughlin also observed that discussion relating to the number of new housing unit required in the borough was not in the context or related to the current social rented housing waiting lists.
Regarding reference within the draft strategy to ‘more effective self-regulation’ (paragraph 4.28), Councillor McLoughlin questioned where had effective self-regulation worked, stating that the cutting of regulatory practice could lead to the potential loss of life.
In terms of selective licensing policy, Councillor McLoughlin did not believe that landlords in the private rented sector would adhere to a selective licensing policy, especially when applied to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO’s) and preferred that the Council retained responsibility for ensuring HMOs were maintained to standard.
In addressing climate change issues through the draft strategy, Councillor McLoughlin welcomed the attention paid to raising EPC standards in Council properties and the private sector but noted that there was no substantive discussion of the materials used for new construction and the related issue of embedded carbon present in some building materials.
In response to the issues raised by Councillor McLoughlin, the Strategic Housing Lead advised the Scrutiny Board that when it came to housing choices for older people, such as the Solihull Village model, the person concerned was provided with appropriate advice to establish what it was they were buying in to. However, it was not necessarily the case that all such models were endorsed by the Council, although such schemes could be potentially considered preferable to a retirement apartment when it came to ease of re-sale on the open housing market.
In the wider context of planning matters as detailed in Section 6 of the draft strategy, the Councils Adult Social Care Directorate was planning to facilitate some public roadshows to engage with older people around housing advice and related matters.
Regarding a selective licensing scheme, the Improvement Plan stated that there was a need to look further at the evidence base for a selective licensing model prior to any such implementation. It was hoped that enforcement staff would have a bigger role to play in the future in this area of policy.
Councillor Mackiewicz noted that there was a 40% requirement in respect of affordable housing provision, of which social rent properties were available through the Solihull scheme. Councillor Mackiewicz noted that in the longer term there may be a requirement to include a 10-year vision to frame the strategic ambition for housing in the borough.
Regarding retirement villages, Councillor Mackiewicz expressed similar concerns as previous speakers, particularly concerning their long-term viability and stated that he favoured older people remaining in their own homes wherever possible and supported with appropriate adaptations.
As far as use of building materials were concerned, Councillor Mackiewicz advised that the rate of delivery for the retrofit programmes, of which there were a number, was determined by the flow of supporting funding. Through the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the Council was also looking at new modular build options, with 3 modular build businesses already located in the borough.
Councillor Thomas referenced the private rental market, stating that she supported private ownership which provided greater security in older age. Councillor Thomas went on to highlight a reference in the report to the potential of build to rent developments (paragraph 8.19) in suitable locations such as town centres, requiring that 20% are provided as affordable private rents. Councillor Thomas shared that she was of the opinion there were 3 classes of home ownership – 1 multiple home ownership, 2 ownership of one home, 3 unable to access the housing market – stating that the second category was the most important, which the housing strategy should support.
The Strategic Housing Lead informed the Scrutiny Board that build to rent was used to produce a specific product for individual landlords. It did have a role to play in town centre developments, but not necessarily at the expense of providing home ownership opportunities for first time buyers. It was possible for build to rent to support local economic profile of an area, for example in the retail and hospitality sectors, and therefore would not wish to disassociate from this sector entirely.
Councillor Mackiewicz observed that there was a requirement for a rental market, which was currently shrinking nationally. The provision of other housing options included schemes such as DIY shared ownership, but ultimately people had the choice whether to rent through such schemes or not. However, such schemes did give people an equity stake in the property. If the equity stake is paid off it can be reinvested into the DIY shared ownership scheme.
Councillor Feeney queried whether existing planning strategies and policies could be challenged in areas such as targets for affordable housing. Councillor Mackiewicz advised that there was currently 38% delivery of affordable housing in the borough, with a future, similar requirement to be sought for retirement villages as they are developed.
Councillor Pinwell thanked Members and officers for their contributions to the discussion and summarised the key points arising as:
- Members would like to see more specifics in terms of timeframes, measures of success / KPI’s for the housing strategy and detail for whom was responsible for delivering on the various components and priorities across the housing strategy.
- How would ownership of the housing strategy across partnerships and stakeholders be managed.
- Concern was expressed for young person’s access to the housing market, particularly first steps, and how could they be supported to do so.
- Senior living sector: Questions were raised as to what was being delivered and what was the best option moving forward e.g. the discussion around ‘retirement villages’ and their potential detrimental impact on an area.
- There was discussion as to how more affordable socially rented properties could be delivered across the borough.
- Use of temporary accommodation and the quality and distance from Solihull of some temporary accommodation currently used was raised by Members.
- Some concern was expressed at the potential effectiveness of any self-regulation concept and questioned how this would work in practical terms, particularly with HMO’s/Private Landlords in practice.
- Construction materials contributing to carbon release via new builds (i.e. embedded carbon issue) and how construction materials could contribute towards achieving better EPC ratings in the borough’s housing stock was raised.
- Do It Yourself Shared Ownership models were discussed.
Having considered the Draft Housing Strategy report, the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board:
(i) To note the Draft Housing Strategy and provide comments on the Draft Housing Strategy for officers to note as detailed above.