Councillor Spillman, as Cabinet Holder for Housing, stated he was proud to present his first report as portfolio holder and paid tribute to the work undertaken by all officers, to former director Roger Harris and former assistant director, Carol Hinvest, and to Councillor Johnson the previous portfolio holder for housing. That during the COVID pandemic the housing department had excelled and surpassed all expectations. The department had faced unprecedented financial restrictions over the last few years even before COVID. That five years ago the department had been in crisis but had inherited a department that was now forming better in almost every metric providing a higher level of customer care. The department was funded and staffed more nimbler and better equipped to deal with new emerging challenges and had instructed officers for a plan in areas such as temporary accommodation, house-building and supported accommodation on a scaling scope significantly beyond which had been seen in many years. The report referred to the level of KPI performance and referred to how ways of working smarter and differently in many areas had changed due to COVID. Referred to the “Everybody In” Scheme and expressed his pride in the achievements in not only rehousing every single rough sleeper who had been reported but also linking them back to vital mental health support, drug and alcohol services. With Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, stating that street homelessness would be abolished by the end of this parliament, Thurrock was ready and willing to do their bit. Councillor Spillman referred to the impressive tenant satisfactory feedback across the services that the Council delivered and had requested a further expansion of the customer satisfaction measurement methodology to see more qualitative research and better analysis of all data collected. Look at areas that were not performing well, learn from those and action quicker than ever before. Councillor Spillman expressed his excitement in taking on the responsibility of the cabinet member for housing with a great opportunity for this budget and would do his very best to ensure those opportunities were realised.
Councillor Worrall welcomed Councillor Spillman to his role as cabinet member for housing and stated both were very passionate about housing. Councillor Worrall questioned how many residents, both single and families, were living in temporary accommodation out of borough and what time frame had been set to have those residents returned to the borough where they belonged. Councillor Spillman stated there were too many with a worry that the number of homeless cases would increase and as a priority had asked for plans to create a huge amount of extra places within the borough and hoped to bring plans to September committee for an extra 100 placements, council owned, in the borough. Councillor Spillman agreed to provide Councillor Worrall with the exact number.
Councillor Worrall expressed her concern that as the safeguards that had been put in place for private renters during COVID were lifted and landlords began to evict tenants, more tenants would become homeless and would put further pressures on an already overwhelmed service. Councillor Worrall questioned what measures would be put in place that officers would be able to cope with the demand so that no family would be forced out of the borough. Councillor Spillman stated it was not clear how many extra homeless cases there would be but gave his guarantee that the extra capacity review that was being put into the service would be enough to cover those but agreed it was deeply worrying.
Councillor Worrall referred to the Mould and Damp Report where over the last two years over 11% of council homes suffered with mould and damp. That in reality the problem was not improving with some families living in deteriorating conditions and questioned what would be done about this. Councillor Spillman stated there were different levels of damp and mould and these needed to be separated and those properties that were not acceptable would be brought down and replaced. That in Autumn/Winter this year another stock survey would be undertaken where 30% of stock would be surveyed during a period when damp and mould was at its worse. Following that there would be better and more accurate data as to where the problems were. Councillor Spillman stated that if any member found a property that was unacceptable to let him know directly.
Councillor Byrne stated his concern that the letters being sent to residents who were unable to pay their council tax or rent and were threatening tenants with eviction and bailiffs. These letter were frightening for residents and were being sent for no reason and asked Councillor Spillman for an explanation. Councillor Spillman asked Councillor Byrne to send him some examples of those letters so that he could comment further.
Councillor Kerin was pleased to see that a good example of council housing was Elmore Court and to see more high quality developments like that and there was a need to push on with the delivery of decent council homes. Councillor Kerin questioned could the portfolio holder identify any current developments that had their genesis design delivered in the last five years. Councillor Spillman stated the situation of the pandemic had frozen plans but he had given officers the scope to plan larger than had been seen before with ambitious projects to include Thurrock Regeneration.
Councillor Pothecary referred to a family who had been forced to accept private accommodation by Housing Solutions outside the borough with the property already showing signs of dilapidation and signs of damp and mould. When Councillor Pothecary had approach Housing Solutions she had been told this was acceptable and stated if private landlords want resident’s money they should be offering acceptable liveable conditions in those properties first. Councillor Spillman stated member’s casework should go through the normal channels for officers but would be happy for members to send such cases to him.
Councillor Muldowney questioned whether the Chadwell Clinic site in Ruskin Road was being released for Council house development or being sold to private developers. Councillor Spillman stated this was being considered under a consultation process and going through committee, that no decision had been made on them but agreed to look into this and provide Councillor Muldowney with a written response.
Councillor Spillman summed up by reminding members that if they had a serious housing issue they could contact him directly. Councillor Spillman stated he was passionate and dedicated to housing and this was an opportunity for him to use the skills and knowledge that he accrued but also with the resource of Thurrock Council to try and change things for the better.