Labour councillors have responded robustly to criticisms of their management of the city’s council housing stock, highlighting the comprehensive City Council Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget passed at the end of February. They are arguing that this budget reaffirms their commitment to supporting tenants affected by welfare reforms, improving existing council homes and investing in badly needed new ones.
Cllr Richard Johnson, Executive Councillor for housing has hit back at opposition claims as a deliberate and cynical attempt to detract from Labour’s strong record on housing delivery.
“We’re not interested in playing these games with the opposition. This isn’t a game. It’s about people’s lives.
“What we are interested in, however, is getting on with the job of delivering a high-quality service and safe, sustainable and secure housing to our tenants. After years of mismanagement by the Liberal Democrats we are now in a position to be able to do that.
“Our ward councillors and city council officers are extremely responsive to any housing case work raised by local residents living in one of our properties.”
The HRA budget outlines three main areas of work, where Labour plan to focus their efforts over the next twelve months and beyond.
Providing Decent Homes and Investing in Energy Efficiency
In the next financial year 2020/2021 the council will be spending a total of nearly £20m in improving the quality of its housing stock of which, amongst other things:
- £600,000 will be on improving kitchens;
- £1m will be spent on improving bathrooms;
- Nearly £700,000 on replacing windows, and
- £1m on replacing roofs.
The council will also allocate the necessary funds to put right the safety hazards identified as needing urgent attention.
Labour will also be investing £2.5m over the next three years to allow for a pilot programme of energy efficiency projects, focusing initially on the council’s least-efficient homes – many of which were constructed over sixty years ago.
After this three-year programme, it is hoped there will be future opportunities to roll out the pilots across the rest of the housing stock. This may include the provision of alternative heat sources. £88m will be invested over the next five years across all the council’s 7000-plus homes, maintaining them at the decent standards tenants expect.
Supporting Tenants Affected by Welfare Reforms and Survivors of Domestic Abuse
Previous investment in supporting those affected by welfare reforms, like Universal Credit, such as putting in place a dedicated financial inclusion officer for council tenants, has meant arrears remain stable as an overall percentage of rent collected. This suggests the council’s efforts to help residents is working.
Labour will spend £22,000 to ensure this post continues to help tenants for an additional year and will invest £44,000 in employing an Auditor to help tenants identify their needs and requirements. This will be of particular help for those who are vulnerable.
Cambridge City Council is only one of five councils in the country to have been accredited by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance for supporting for domestic abuse survivors.
To demonstrate our continuing commitment to survivors, Labour will be allocating £30,000 a year for the next few years toward a fund to enable survivors to improve the security of their homes for them and their families.
Building for the Future
Labour is on course to complete nearly 550 new low-carbon council homes by 2022, exceeding the target set in 2017 following the council receiving £70m to build 500 new homes as part of the devolution agreement with Government – funding the Liberal Democrats were opposed to.
The HRA budget looks ahead post-2022 with the council setting out its ambition to build a further 1000 new council homes by 2032. Additional resources will be provided to its Housing Development Agency to identify opportunities on existing council land and elsewhere in Cambridge to make good this target.
In introducing the budget to the full council meeting on February 25th, Cllr Johnson said:
“The budget reflects this council’s vision, rooted in a commitment to creating one Cambridge fair for all.
“And it describes how we will provide more homes for people in need, tackle inequality and support the wellbeing of our future and existing tenants.”