Basildon sheltered housing re-designated to meet “tsunami of need”

Basildon Council has approved implementing a phased programme in which two supported living schemes will be re-designated for meeting general housing needs within the borough.

Councillor Andrew Schrader (Con, Billericay East) presented members with extensive evidence and consultation responses at a meeting of the cabinet on November 16.

Cllr Schrader first proposed re-designating Felmore Court and Fore Street supported living provisions as general council housing stock in July, but initiated further public consultations due to being “extremely cognizant” of the concerns of current residents in Basildon’s sheltered accommodation and wanting to approach the issue “with a certain deftness”.

He said: “(The council) must ensure it makes the best use of the limited housing stock it owns.

“Housing services across this country are facing a tsunami of need.

“Rising costs of home ownership coupled with limited and reduced capacity in the private rental sector is resulting in more and more residents relying on the council to assist them with their housing needs.

“We simply don’t have enough available properties. Paradoxically, meanwhile, we have a glut of sheltered housing designated for older residents.”

Cllr Schrader said that approximately 16 per cent of the council’s entire housing stock – equating to roughly 1,700 properties – was designated as sheltered accommodation for the elderly. Between 10 and 20 of these properties sit unoccupied for varying lengths of time, and in the last year alone almost one-third of the sheltered properties which were re-let were done so to people from outside of Basildon.

“We cannot allow this to continue,” he said. “It’s irresponsible, wasteful, grotesquely unfair to those languishing in temporary accommodation and we must find a better way of using limited resources to the maximum benefit of our residents.”

Cllr Schrader stressed that a phased re-designation programme would help the council to meet the housing needs of a greater proportion of the borough’s residents as well as assist in mitigating the detrimental effects of rising temporary and social accommodation costs on the council’s budget. By the end of this year, it is predicted that Basildon Borough Council will see an overspend of around £1.5 million on temporary accommodation measures.

Although he acknowledged that “most tenants living in (sheltered accommodation) would prefer the status quo”, Cllr Schrader said he is “fully committed” to offering current residents maximum support.

However, he said: “Public consultations aren’t a referendum, and certainly not a box-ticking exercise.

“(The scheme) isn’t a panacea and will not magically fix all of our problems, but will contribute to a solution.”

Residents of both Felmore Court and Fore Street will have the choice between converting their tenancy agreements into standard council agreements or seeking sheltered housing through another scheme within the borough.

Councillor Terry Webb (Lab, Lee Chapel North) said: “(Cllr Schrader) has not brought sheltered residents along on the journey here. There have been very real concerns and fears expressed by residents over the uncertainty of a transition period.

“We need a far more proactive, housing management-centred response.”

Cllr Webb also noted that elderly people currently living in the two sheltered schemes would perhaps be less inclined to report incidents of anti-social behaviour which may occur once general council tenants move into the properties.

Council leader Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) said: “I think it’s very easy to demonise the concept of being a council tenant… though not often without cause, as we have some council tenants who are very troublesome folk.

“The aspiration is that people who move into (the re-designated sheltered accommodation) will be grateful. Receiving a tenancy now is a privilege, and the majority of people do see and treat it as such.”

Cllr Baggott said that any new council tenants found to be instigating occurrences of anti-social behaviour “will have their tenancy revoked; (the council) will not rehouse them and instead list them as voluntarily homeless. They can have a very nice life living out of a box somewhere”.

Cllr Schrader ended his presentation by reminding those present that the council’s “primary concern is the welfare of our tenants”.

The motion to introduce the phased re-designation of Felmore Court and Fore Street was carried by a majority vote.

Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter