Investment in the future of housing in Southend-on-Sea

Major investment is set to continue in local council housing.

Construction is well underway to deliver Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s first zero carbon standard house builds using modern methods of construction (MMC).

The council’s cabinet will discuss the plans for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget and outline how it proposes to meet the housing needs for residents in Southend-on-Sea (Cabinet item 8, 13 January)

Almost £77 million will be invested over the next five years in local council housing. This will include electrical rewiring, new bathrooms, new kitchens, new roofs, new windows and doors, and the installation of more energy efficient and economical boilers. The programme to continue buying private homes and turning them into council housing will also continue.

In line with national policy, guidance and legislation issues by central Government, the report proposes rent increases of 4.1% on all council tenancies, including shared ownership and garage rents, and outlines the management fee for South Essex Homes, who manage the council’s housing stock. This will rise slightly to £6.6million, mostly due to a rise in staff costs and the introduction of two new fire safety manager roles and two fire safety engineers, following recommendations made after the Grenfell tragedy.

In real terms, the proposed rent increase is £3.71 per week on the average rent and £3.23 per week increase for sheltered accommodation.

The report explains how the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to fire safety and building regulations because of the Grenfell tragedy, has created additional yet necessary financial pressures for both the council and South Essex Homes. The proposed HRA outlines how the budget will cover the costs and balance the books.

Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “We appreciate that the past two years have been difficult for everyone due to the pandemic, and we take our responsibility very seriously to make sure all of our tenants are safe and well in their homes and that is why we are proposing new and continued investment into improving and creating more council housing.

“This proposed budget will make sure that we meet all our obligations, whilst also balancing the books and making sure the HRA does not go into deficit. It will also mean that we can invest millions in maintaining the council properties we manage and do all we can to fulfil the council’s 2050 ambition that everyone has a home that suits their needs and feels safe and well.”

South Essex Homes is proposing an average 10.8% increase in service charges, or £1.92 per week increase. The exact increase will depend on costs relating to each housing block and the cost of services provided, which varies between addresses. Service charges are generally covered by housing benefit where applicable.

There will be an average reduction of 16.95% in heating charges for sheltered housing tenants, and an increase of just over 4% for hostel tenants.

The financial estimates used to create the proposed HRA budget will lead to an estimated surplus of just under £3million, which will be invested in the Capital Investment Reserve to fund new council homes being built.

The report outlines how the HRA will continue to support the Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, by partially funding the housing development pipeline and using HRA capital and right-to-buy receipts to purchase properties to use as affordable housing.

Cllr Anne Jones, cabinet member for communities and housing, said: “We have repeatedly said that we do not want to see anyone in our borough homeless or sleeping rough.

“To help, we must have the homes to make sure those at risk of homelessness have somewhere to live, which means looking at new ways of creating more and new affordable housing, otherwise known as social or council housing.

“We need to get people off of the housing waiting list and into their future homes and make sure those homes are maintained and meet good standards."

The draft budget will be considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday 13 January, the council’s three scrutiny committees at the start of February, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at Full Council on Thursday 24 February.

Published: 7th January 2022

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