Agenda and draft minutes

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 16th March, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: This meeting will be livestreamed and can be watched via www.thurrock.gov.uk/webcast

Contact: Wendy Le, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

41.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 261 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 19 January 2021.

 

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Minutes:

Referring to page 13, Councillor Worrall said that she had not received the information on the number of people that had completed the resident survey for the rents Ryan Farmer said that he would send this across.

 

Referring to page 5, Councillor Redsell highlighted the suggestion for corporate sponsorship for the gates and asked that this be considered by the service.

42.

Urgent Items

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

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Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

43.

Declaration of Interests

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Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

44.

Inspire - Head Start Housing : Supporting Care Leavers pdf icon PDF 162 KB

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Minutes:

The report on pages 17 – 24 of the Agenda was presented by Tiffany Bright. A link to the videos of the project would be emailed to Members.

 

The Chair felt the project was a wonderful programme and commented that a similar project could be done for offenders as well as care leavers. Councillor Redsell asked how long care leavers could stay in the property and if the service liaised with them. She also questioned if the videos could be presented at Committee that night; and if care leavers paid rent. Tiffany Bright answered that the average length of stay was eight months but could be longer if the care leaver did not have recourse to public funds. Pre-Covid-19, Officers were checking in every month but were currently calling care leavers every four days to check their understanding of the changing Covid-19 guidelines; if they were able to access education/training and if they had sufficient funds for food/mobile. If care leavers reported Covid-19 symptoms, these phone calls would increase to everyday until the symptoms ceased. In regards to rent, she said that an equitable rental system scheme had been developed as these were shared accommodations to ensure a fair way of contribution where a young person would contribute 10% of their weekly income after completing their probationary period in employment.

 

In regards to the video, Michele Lucas said that it was 25 minutes long which detailed individual young people living in the Head Start properties and one of the main issues raised was a lack of Wi-Fi which led to the installation of Wi-Fi in the new property that was shown in the shorter video. The videos would give Members an idea of the work that the service undertook with care leavers to ensure that they had a place to live with the wrap around service provided by the Council and linking them to the right opportunities.

 

Councillor Worrall was pleased to see that the service had taken a proactive approach in ensuring that care leavers had a settled accommodation. She questioned if there was enough accommodation for those who needed it. She noted that universities were currently closed and asked if any care leavers in university were in the Head Start accommodations or whether they could access these. Tiffany Bright answered that the current average occupancy rate was around 84 so had little capacity left and needed to be carefully managed by working with aftercare services in relocating young people when needed. The service set rooms aside for care leavers at university which turned out that none of those rooms were used so another piece of work was being done on this. The service was working closely with the Finance Team to ensure that there was sufficient provision in the next budget to be able to grow the service.

 

Councillor Worrall asked what the number of rooms were needed to adequately house care leavers to which Tiffany Bright replied that another 15 beds would be more than adequate. Councillor  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.

45.

Leaseholder Satisfaction Survey Results and Initial Action Plan pdf icon PDF 366 KB

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The report was presented by Chris Seman.

 

The Chair noted that the results showed that leaseholders did not feel that they were getting value for money on their service charges and asked how this could be resolved. He commented that some of the blocks of flats were not in good conditions compared to private blocks of flats and he felt that more could be done to ensure a nicer place to live. He suggested using focus groups to identify what leaseholders wanted. The Vice-Chair commented that leaseholders complained about damp and mould and paint issues. Councillor Abbas said that it was hard to justify service charge increases when there was a high level of dissatisfaction. He also asked why the survey had not collected more detailed data to identify why leaseholders were dissatisfied.

 

Chris Seman explained that the service was looking to deliver focus groups as soon as it was possible to do so which would help to identify why leaseholders were dissatisfied as the survey did not show these reasons. Once these reasons were identified, it would help the service to identify what needed to be focused on.

 

Adding to this, Ian Wake noted the Chair’s earlier comparison to private blocks of flats and pointed out that service charges in private flats were likely to be higher than what these leaseholders were paying. He said that these leaseholders’ blocks of flats had low level Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) which Officers could look into on a ‘postcode level’ to identify where the ASB was occurring to address these issues but that officers would need to identify the reasons behind leaseholders’ dissatisfaction to work out a coaching plan. In regards to the survey, he said that the first stage was in collecting quantitative data to understand the issues in terms of the categories and then to conduct further focused and targeted engagements to understand the reasons behind the quantitative data.

 

Tracy John added that with the Capital Programme and a decorations programme, this could increase the service charges for leaseholders. She went on to say that there was a difference between leaseholders and tenants in these areas that the service would look to identify the reasons for this through the focus groups.

 

Councillor Redsell asked how many people had the survey been sent to. She said that people had to take pride in the area that they lived in but if it was not well maintained, people would not take pride in it. She said that people were expected to keep diaries of ASB on council owned properties and that the Council should take responsibility there. She felt that the Council should be aware of where ASB was occurring where flats were not looked after or in good condition and suggested that Officers should physically check properties as had been undertaken in the past. She stated that the Council was the landlord and should aim to keep properties up to standards and felt that where it was not, it did not look  ...  view the full minutes text for item 45.

46.

Housing Development Programme Update pdf icon PDF 244 KB

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The report was presented by Keith Andrews.

 

The Chair questioned why there had been no ‘take ups’ from SMEs. Keith Andrews answered that the first round of engagement had a mix of responses where some had misunderstood the tender and some had missed the bidding deadline. SMEs showed an interest in coming back and the service aimed to improve the messaging for next time to promote the opportunities and to work better with the SME sector as it was recognised that SMEs generally found it difficult to engage with Local Authorities. He went on to say that this was a national pilot to promote these opportunities and hoped for a more positive response next time.

 

Councillor Redsell questioned whether there were other garage sites considered for the Site Options List. She also commented on the quality and design of the Claudian Way development in Chadwell St Mary and suggested that the same developers be used for other sites in Thurrock. Keith Andrews answered that the service worked closely with the Housing Team and that garage sites had been reviewed but some were not practical as they had access and overlooking issues. The service would bring forward any suitable sites once these were identified. He went on to agree that the Claudian Way scheme was good and the service was pleased with the outcome as it was important to invest time and energy into the design to deliver a good quality product.

 

In regards to the garages on Lyndhurst Road, Councillor Worrall asked whether the service had informed the people that owned those garages that the site was being considered for housing development. She also commented that she was not happy with the process of the Site Options List as it was unclear how sites were added on and then it was taken off or paused. She felt that the list did not have the right pieces of land. Keith Andrews answered that they had not been contacted yet as the requirement was that the sites be brought to Committee at an early stage and that the land contained only garages, not homes. The service would be engaging with those garage owners to discuss the options and the site. He explained that the process for identifying sites had begun 18 months ago and part of the process was to bring the Site Options List to committee to ensure transparency. He said that the March Cabinet report had set out that a process that still needed to be discussed and for a report to come back on the options on how housing delivery could be achieved using the Council’s assets. Once this was identified, it would be brought back to Committee which would help to give more certainty to the delivery programme.

 

Referring to the Claudian Way development and other developments, Councillor Worrall said that the process at that time had been to take those sites to Property Boards with Councillors and then to forums so the sites had been looked at  ...  view the full minutes text for item 46.

47.

Homelessness Prevention and Rough Sleeping Strategy - Action Plan pdf icon PDF 248 KB

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The report was presented by Ryan Farmer.

 

The Chair was pleased to see that the Council had delivered on its promise in regards to tackling homelessness and the funding that had been provided by national Government. He commented that the homelessness service had improved over the last few years but was concerned that too many people were still being placed outside the Borough and was concerned whether there was enough provision in the Borough.

 

Councillor Worrall questioned whether there were vacancies within the Homelessness Team. She said that she had been informed that people were struggling to make contact with Homelessness Officers and that she had tried calling the department herself where there had been no answer. She questioned who or what Jigsaw was. Ryan Farmer said that he did not manage the team but he was aware that there had been a number of posts over the past 12 months which had been created due to the funding from national Government. He was aware that the team was expanding and could not confirm if there were vacancies that the team needed to recover but there was good coverage within the team. He said that Jigsaw was the name of the case management system that tracked and progressed cases. He asked Councillor Worrall to pass the case details on to him so that he could pass this onto the Homelessness Team to look into.

 

Councillor Worrall said that she would pass these details on and went on to say that the Homelessness Team needed to follow through with their case work which had been discussed in reports at Committee last year. She said that since the pandemic, there had been support from charities such as Friends of Essex and London Homeless and that the service should consider speaking with charities such as It’s Nice to be Nice when engaging with stakeholders instead of consulting bigger organisations. She highlighted that this charity were made up of volunteers in the community to help people during the pandemic. Ryan Farmer said that it was important that the issue of homelessness was tackled in partnership with other organisations. He appreciated that the Council was made aware of other organisations and encouraged Members to continue to do so.

 

Councillor Redsell questioned whether there were any rough sleepers currently and if any of these were ex-servicemen. Ryan Farmer answered that he was not aware of any currently and said that 77 people had been helped in the past 12 months through the homelessness initiative. He was not aware of any that were ex-servicemen and would provide an update to Councillor Redsell.

 

Referring to paragraph 4.4, the Vice-Chair questioned whether individuals had been permanently or temporarily housed. Ryan Farmer answered that the figure was now 77 people in which 74 had been placed in emergency accommodation and that 37 of these had moved into permanent accommodation. Three people had been assisted by other organisations with some supported back to friends or family and people were generally supported  ...  view the full minutes text for item 47.

48.

Interim Housing Strategy Timetable pdf icon PDF 165 KB

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The report was presented by Ryan Farmer.

 

The Chair commented that there was a lot of uncertainty currently and understood that the strategy would be considered in more detail before going forward. Noting paragraph 4.4, Councillor Abbas said that there were housing developments underway in West Thurrock and asked how these would fit in with the strategy. Ryan Farmer explained that the strategy was not in regards to the provision of sites or how development would be undertaken in Thurrock which was a part of the Local Plan process. Members discussed that it was important for infrastructure to be in place to enable the Local Plan to progress.

 

Councillor Worrall commented that a report on the Housing Strategy had been brought to Committee in 2015 and asked if that had laid the foundations for this report. She also asked if the current objectives in the current report had been measured against those from 2015. Ryan Farmer answered that the 2015 report was used as the foundation to ensure that the strategy captured an up to date picture of those figures and was at an early stage so there were further points to consider particularly as the housing landscape had changed significantly since the 2015 – 2020 report. The Chair commented that housing had changed a lot since 2015 particularly in the private housing market which had seen an inflation of house prices. He said that this made it difficult for the housing strategy and Councillor Worrall commented that the housing strategy should be revisited every three years instead of five years if the 2015 strategy was out of date.

 

RESOLVED:

 

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee are asked to note the contents of this report and comment on the proposal to develop a new housing strategy. The Committee is also asked to comment on the consultation proposals as set out in section 6.

 

49.

Housing Service COVID-19 Response Update pdf icon PDF 183 KB

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The report was presented by Ryan Farmer.

 

The Chair asked whether the service had considered what issues they would face after the pandemic if the Covid-19 vaccination programme was successful. Ryan Farmer answered that in the past 12 months, there had been significant intervention from the service to help people in their stability and security. There had been a ban on residential evictions that had now been extended along with Universal Credit and when these came to an end, people would have to support themselves again but it was unclear to know the full impact this. He commented that the service could potentially see an increase in the homelessness service with people facing financial difficulties but was hard to quantify whilst interventions were in place.

 

Ian Wake said that the Council had seen a fundamental change in how health services had been provided and care had been altered in order to provide sufficient capacity. He commented that there was a worry in that there could be a bigger health crisis that was not Covid-19 related as things that normally happened had not occurred. This could lead to a demand for more specialist and supported housing in adult social care provision and there was already recognition of a mental health crisis. He went on to say that after the interventions ended, there could be a potential increase in unemployment which would see associated problems that included an increase in homelessness and an impact to the economy that could lead to housing demand. Tracy John added that the Housing Service would look at how they could continue to deliver its housing programmes and repairs services as well as looking out for issues where people were financially restricted. She said that the service would ensure that teams had the capacity and flexibility to respond to issues and also support staff who may have had issues through the pandemic as well.

 

The Committee agreed to suspend standing orders until 10pm to enable the Agenda to be completed.

 

Councillor Redsell commented that car crimes had increased and questioned if this was due to everyone working from home. She also mentioned that tenants who lived in Chadwell St Mary had been prioritised for the Claudian Way development and was concerned that other people on the housing waiting list had not been prioritised and may have been on the list for a longer time. Ryan Farmer said that he was unable to answer in regards to car crime. In regards to Claudian Way, he said that a local lettings plan had been used as with the Council’s previous four new developments. For Claudian Way, 75% of the lettings had been provided to people within the boundary of Chadwell St Mary as people who lived in the area of a new development should be offered the opportunity to move there and this had freed up other properties for people to bid on through the housing register. There had been a proportion of the Claudian Way properties that were  ...  view the full minutes text for item 49.

50.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 35 KB

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The following reports were added to the work programme for the next municipal year:

 

·         Stock Survey – Damp and Mould.