Plans mooted to spend millions on homes for homeless families

Havering Town Hall

Havering cabinet members are being asked to approve plans for investment in housing for homeless families - Credit: Ken Mears

Havering Council is set to invest almost £60million over five years in buying properties to house homeless families.

The authority plans to provide its housing company Mercury Land Holdings with the money, through equity and loans, to buy 150 homes across the borough.

The average spend per property is around £395,000.

Cabinet members are being asked to approve the plans at a meeting tonight (October 20).

A council report said the move hopes to meet objectives it set in its homelessness and rough sleeping strategy, adopted last year, to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation and its overall cost.

Under the plans, Mercury Land Holdings will buy homes from the open market and offer the council referral rights for households at risk of homelessness to occupy.

The report said: "This will enable Havering to gradually reduce its private sector lease stock where properties are of poorer quality and value for money is no longer achieved."

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Mercury Land Holdings will offer 12-month tenancies and the council will offer support to the tenant for the first two years under the plans.

The authority's Find Your Own scheme gives people the chance to find a home in the private rented sector of their choice and the council offers financial support.

It yields more than 400 properties a year but the council admitted "it does not control the market in terms of rent or quality".

Rises in house prices have also reduced the number of affordable properties available to people receiving benefits, the authority added.

"There remains a sizable gap between average market rent levels for different bedroom sizes in the private sector and the level of rent that housing benefit will cover.

"We know that the inability to afford, or sustain, an assured short hold tenancy in the private rented sector is a key cause of homelessness."

The council saw a rise of more than 500 homelessness applications in 2020/21 (April to March) than 2019/20, an increase of about a quarter.

Private landlords are also "increasingly" ending leases with the council to get higher rents privately, the authority said.

According to the report, the Mercury Land Holdings properties will substitute the "poorer quality" private sector accommodation.

The plans would see 25 homes bought and delivered in the first year.

The report said the proposal is to sell the 150 properties on the open market after five years, though the council will retain the option to buy them.

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