Task force set up to tackle East Devon's affordable housing crisis

  Posted: 11.10.21 at 15:19 by Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives

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A £500,000 task force to combat the affordable housing crisis in East Devon is to be created following a decision by the district council this week.

The task force will be a team of newly-hired staff with the aim of increasing affordable housing in the district.

According to a report by Devon Home Choice, more than 2,650 households are in housing need in East Devon – the third-highest in the county.

The affordable housing task force is expected to cost about half a million pounds and to run for at least two years, paid for from an east Devon District Council budget underspend in the 2021/22 financial year, which ends next March.

A report by officers into a potential task force said: “The need for more affordable housing is highly evident, with demand outstripping supply and has resulted in an increase in the housing register and homelessness.”

Councillor Steve Gazzard (Liberal Democrat, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) told East Devon's Cabinet: “It is imperative that we do something… There is a crisis in housing.

“There’s not a day goes by that, as a councillor, I don’t have people contacting me saying ‘I’m at my wit’s end. I’m pulling my hair out. I see somewhere advertised and by the time the morning comes and I pick the phone up it’s gone.’ That’s happening every day.”

The report says that the council should continue to look at multiple ways of delivering affordable housing, including working with housing associations, supporting community land trusts and seeking opportunities to build new homes through the planning process, whilst in the short term searching for “quick wins” by buying homes that are currently available.

The council says it provides 200 to 300 new affordable homes per year, mainly through the purchase of existing properties, but this isn’t enough.

One officer described it as “no small feat, but insufficient to keep pace with current demand".

It is also thought the government’s Right to Buy policy is undermining efforts to provide social housing.

At present, EDDC is forced to sell around 30 properties each year as people choose to buy their council house. One officer described it as a process that is “haemorrhaging” social housing in the area.

Though fully in support of creating the new task force, Councillor Jack Rowland (Independent East Devon Alliance, Seaton) said he expected East Devon’s housing crisis to get worse before it gets better, citing the end of the eviction ban in May and the end of the furlough scheme last month.

Councillor Eileen Wragg (Liberal Democrats, Exmouth Town) agreed, adding: “I believe we are facing an extremely harsh winter."

She referred to rising fuel costs and the end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift this week, which she feared would heap pressure on people already struggling to get by.

Cllr Wragg added: “Far from it being a better Christmas than last year, as the prime minister has said, I believe it’s going to be a pretty grim Christmas and we’re going to see an increase in homelessness and people on the streets.”

Last month EDDC agreed to hire two extra housing officers to help to manage soaring levels of homelessness in the district.

A council report said an “unsustainable” number of people were approaching it for help, with some housing staff having to take time off because of stress.

The decision to create the affordable housing task force was unanimously agreed by East Devon’s Cabinet. It will now be presented to the rest of the council for final approval.

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