Pressure grows for more social housing

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THE new boss of a social housing organisation has revealed it is struggling to close the gap on a growing waiting list.

Ian Winslet is just two weeks into the job as chief executive of the Suffolk Housing Society, based in Bury St Edmunds.

He has been meeting councils this week and was due to meet Bury and Stowmarket MP David Ruffley today, as the society tries to thrash out how to deliver more homes with reduced Government grant, at a time when the economic climate is adding to the demand for affordable housing.

“History shows that there is always a gap between the need and supply. That problem is always there. Is that going to get better? It is hard to say. But at times like this waiting lists tend to rise,” Mr Winslet said.

In St Edmundsbury alone, the number of people on the housing list has grown from 1,804 last year to 1,919 currently.

Job cuts, inflation and other pressures are expected to add to that figure.

At the same time, the Government has cut grants to housing associations.

New builds are to be funded through loans repaid through higher rents to the new tenants – an increase to housing benefit is meant to ease the pressure on the tenants.

“We are currently developing a strategy that allows us to deliver more homes. We have got 170 houses in the pipeline that we will continue to develop,” said Mr Winslet.

He added that the society was looking to bring empty homes in the county back into the supply and would be applying for grants.

In St Edmundsbury, as of January 1, there were 153 homes that had been empty for more than six months – 60 of which are in Bury.

Delivering affordable homes in the villages to enable people to stay living in their communities would, however, remain difficult, he said.

“They are smaller sites so you don’t tend to get the same economies of scale – it is more difficult to develop and that tends to push the price up,” he said. .

Mr Ruffley, meanwhile, said: “Under the previous Government, the number of households on social housing waiting lists doubled to nearly 1.8 million.”

He added that it had spent £17 billion on social housing but left a legacy which included a 250,000 overcrowded homes, while more than 400,000 homes were under-occupied.