Unable to get on the housing ladder in Chichester

MORE than a third of residents are unable to afford a house in the Chichester district, with the figure rising to 50 per cent in the city.

The figures were revealed as part of a summary of ‘key challenges’ facing Chichester District Council’s housing department.

Reports, prepared for the Chichester Housing Strategy 2013-18, listed ‘affordability’ as one of seven main challenges across the district.

“House prices continue to increase while, at the same time, the average salary of residents is falling,” said the report.

Members of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, meeting last Thursday, heard estate agents continued to report demand outstripping supply in the city centre and there was a shortage of low-cost housing throughout the district for younger working people.

The 2011 census found 32.2 per cent of the population was in the 15-44 age range, below the national average of 40.5 per cent.

“Local, economically active young people frequently have to move to neighbouring areas, undermining the economic strategy, increasing commuting and increasing the impact of an ageing population,” said officers.

“The number of households in the district in high housing need is relatively small but there is an increasing number of households unable to purchase or rent on the open market.”

Rented accommodation

Over the last ten years, the private rented sector in the district has increased by 68 per cent.

This increase was attributed to residents being unable to get a mortgage, increased student numbers, lack of affordable housing and a ‘government expectation’ to ‘discharge homeless’ into the private sector.

“Demand is currently outstripping supply and driving rental growth,” said officers, who calculated average entry-level rent for a one-bedroom flat would be £507 and for a four-bedroom house would £1,513.

This would mean, keeping the cost of housing to 25 to 33 per cent of income, the income required for a one-bedroom flat is £18,000 to £24,000 and for a four-bedroom house is £54,000 to £72,000.

“Some young households are forced to relocate to neighbouring, less expensive districts,” said officers.

“This pressure on the private rented sector also creates additional problems for the council as there are fewer properties available in which to house homeless households and this in turn creates more demand for affordable housing.”

Key challenges

In total, seven key challenges were identified:

Dealing with the impact of welfare reforms

Dealing with the impact of high affordable rents and diminishing social stock

Affordability

Housing supply and overcoming infrastructure issues

A shortage of private rented accommodation

Aging population

Gypsies and travellers.

Solutions

To help overcome the seven challenges, the council has come up with a series of ‘key priority’ areas, including the delivery of at least 550 affordable homes on market sites over the five-year strategy period.

Presenting the report to committee members, housing enabling manager Linda Grange said: “We consider 550 houses over the strategy period is an appropriate target. In addition, we consider that an additional 150 houses could be delivered through the use of CDC to provide resources.”

She said the overall target of 700 homes was ‘slightly down’ on the target for the previous five years.

The four main priorities to help overcome district housing challenges are:

Maximise the supply of local homes to meet the needs of local people

Make the most of existing housing stock, whilst maintaining sustainable communities

Enable local people to find their own solutions

Provide additional support for those most in need.

Cllr Alan Chaplin, sitting on the committee, asked what the impact of the bedroom tax would be on the housing strategy.

However, housing operations manager Rob Dunmall said it was still ‘very early in the new regime’ and officers did not yet know the exact impact.

Members voted to approve the strategy.

Housing register

More than 5,500 households are currently on Chichester District Council’s housing register, with more than 200 new applicants signing up every month.

Of those, 75 per cent are new applicants looking for a home and 25 per cent are seeking a transfer.

Currently, 72 per of applicants have a connection to the district but officers said there had been a ‘noticeable increase’ in applications from households with no local connection.

In February, there were 4,029 applicants with a local connection and 1,555 without a connection. The highest need was for one and two-bedroom accommodation.

At Thursday’s meeting, members approved changes to the housing allocation scheme.

The main changes included only allowing applicants who had lived in the district for a certain amount of time to join the register and excluding applicants whose gross earnings are more than four times the local housing allowance, have significant housing-related debts or who have been involved in anti-social behaviour in the last five years.

Speaking about the changes, Cllr Gordon McAra asked: “We have no powers to take away tenancy from people that exceed that process as of now?”

“Unfortunately not,” said housing operations manager Rob Dunmall. “Because it’s all owned by registered providers they would find it very difficult to do.”