Suffolk's local authorities are delighted to have been awarded funding by the Local Government Association to commission a vital, county-wide housing strategy review.
The £20,000 pot will kickstart a programme which aims to increase the number of genuinely affordable properties available to meet those in housing need.
The Housing Advisers Programme grant is designed to support councils seeking to innovate and will fund the provision of bespoke expert support to councils.
Suffolk’s successful bid was led by East Suffolk Council, which will work with Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council, Babergh District Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and West Suffolk Council – identifying opportunities to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Working together as the Suffolk Housing Board, the councils have identified 900 properties available for rent, 5,000 properties marketed for sale, 1,000 long term empty homes and 6,000 second homes. And yet, despite this, there are currently a significant number of households living in unsatisfactory, unsuitable accommodation, experiencing, or at risk of homelessness.
The Suffolk Housing Board has, therefore, agreed to establish a project which will agree proposals that remove barriers to accommodating people, as well as gaps in policies where accommodation solutions could be encouraged. The councils will use this opportunity to join up their approaches, exploring ideas such as resource pooling, funding empty home renovations, early engagement, legal advice and community engagement.
Cllr Richard Kerry, cabinet member for Housing at East Suffolk Council said:
“We want to consider innovative Suffolk-wide models to increase the number of genuinely affordable properties available to meet those in housing need. This may include improved schemes for returning long term empty homes back into use or enhanced schemes to access the private rented sector.
“In 2019/20, it was identified that more than 130,000 Suffolk residents were living in a low-income household. The cost-of-living crisis is having a significant further impact and we need to find solutions to these issues. This funding will help us to move that process forward at pace.”
Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, cabinet member for Housing and Strategic Health at West Suffolk Council, said:
“Our staff work daily to help prevent and lift people out of homelessness and find and secure housing that people can afford and that meets their needs. Securing enough suitable housing to meet a whole mix of different needs is always a challenge and we are already innovative in how we help people.
"The pressures from the cost-of-living are likely to make that even more challenging both in terms of the number of people coming to us for help and the complexities of their needs. That is why this work with other local housing authorities across Suffolk is so important in terms of finding new ways we can unlock access to more homes in the private rented sector as well as bringing more empty homes back into use.”
Cllr Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for Economic Development, Transport Strategy and Waste, said:
“The issue of affordable rural housing continues is one that affects communities up and down the country so any scheme which can help deliver a solution is to be welcomed.
“This funding will help enable local authorities to pool their collective resources and work even more closely together on identifying and developing ideas on how we can improve the housing stock available in Suffolk.”
Cllr Neil MacDonald, Ipswich Borough Council portfolio holder for Housing, said:
“We look forward to working with our district neighbours on this county-wide housing strategy to increase the supply of genuinely affordable rental properties.
“The main aims are to work better with landlords across Suffolk and to find other ways to return long-term empty homes back into use. It’s a great initiative that we are pleased to receive funding to progress.”
Cllr Lavinia Hadingham, cabinet member for Housing at Mid Suffolk District Council said:
“We welcome the opportunity to build on the innovative work we are already doing both individually and with our neighbouring authorities to meet the ever-increasing needs of our communities. We believe everyone should have a safe and secure place to call home, and yet despite our best efforts we know there are still households living in unsatisfactory accommodation or facing fear of homelessness. By working together, we can do more to identify every opportunity and bridge the gap between supply and demand.”
Cllr Jan Osborne, cabinet member for Housing at Babergh District Council said:
“The current cost of living crisis makes this work more important now than ever. Our services are becoming increasingly stretched, and while we are all dedicated to helping each individual case, we could do even more by working together to find a strategic sustainable solution – and increasing the number of genuinely affordable properties available for those in housing need.”
The Suffolk Housing Board will subsequently monitor the success of the programme by looking at indicators including the reduction in use of B&Bs and hotels, the number of empty homes brought back into use and the successful placement of previously homeless into the private sector.
The project will commence in January 2023 and this initial stage is expected to conclude in the autumn of next year.