Councillors Tim Bick of Cambridge City Council and Nichola Harrison of Cambridgeshire County Council have published the results of their enquiry into rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge.
As local councillors, we know that local residents are distressed and concerned about the increase in rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge in recent times. They want to understand what is going on, what is being done about it and what more could be done - and this report tries to offer some answers.
In our enquiry, we talked with many people working in this field locally and elsewhere, as well as with people who have experience of living on the street. They told us about the range of problems that drive homelessness, including mental illness, substance misuse, family breakdown, domestic abuse, financial loss and debt. They explained how the increasing severity of mental illness and drug addictions among people on the street is making it more difficult for those individuals to engage positively with support and recovery services. We also learned how the growth in expensive drug addictions is fuelling street begging and our report considers how our community might respond to that.
We found a wide range of local services aimed at enabling people on the street to take up accommodation and access other support and treatment. The organisations involved include charities, housing associations, the councils, the NHS and others, working as a loose partnership on many issues. We found a strong spirit of commitment and collaboration among them, not least within the numerous front-line outreach services on the street.
Substantial basic welfare support is available, but many services focus particularly on progress and recovery rather than help that might only sustain the status quo. On this principle, much effort is applied to engaging with people who find it hard or are reluctant to make changes in their lives. Gone are the days when a bed at a night shelter was all rough sleepers could expect – these days support is aimed at meeting the overall needs of the person, to give them the best chance of maintaining progress and avoiding a recurrence of homelessness.
Accommodation provision in the city operates as a ‘pathway’ - from assessment and short-term accommodation, through supported accommodation to independent tenancies. The pathway has some flexibility for people who find its requirements difficult to accept, but, nevertheless, some people do not manage to stay on track and others are unwilling to engage at all. Whether that choice can be seen as a rational expression of free will, or only a by-product of desperate personal problems, must be judged case by case. We considered other ethical and practical questions like this, such as whether giving money to beggars is a productive way to help and whether rough sleeping can ever be eradicated.
Cambridge people are generally tolerant of non-conformity and their main concern is about the welfare of people on the street. However, many are also concerned about anti-social behaviour and problems like discarded drug injecting needles, and we consider these issues in the report.
You can read the full report on the web here.
The Lib Dems are disgusted to find council houses on Hawkins Road still empty a year and a half later, as Labour reject Rod Cantrill's proposals to provide support for larger families renting one of the City's 500 new council homes.
The Lib Dem housing committee proposal would protect larger families from the benefit cap under Universal Credit enable work to start on the much-needed improvements to the sorry state of communal areas on the council housing sites. Not only that, it would also have ensured that council tenants living in sheltered accommodation would still be able to rely on the council to undertake repairs to their properties without having to pay for them.
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Council Leader, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, has slapped down the democratic decision of the Council’s Housing Committee by deciding to ignore the committee’s support for the opposition amendment to the Housing Budget.
Members of the committee, including the council tenant representatives voted to support the amended Housing Budget. Council officers confirmed the amendment would have still resulted in a balanced Housing Budget being delivered.
Rod Cantrill, Shadow Liberal Democrat Housing Spokes, commented:
“The amendment would have meant that larger families renting one of the new 500 council houses in the city would save up to £2,000 a year. This would be a big difference to people struggling to make ends meet in Cambridge.
In addition, it would have better protected larger families from the benefit cap under Universal Credit and enabled work to start on the much-needed improvements to the sorry state of communal areas on the council housing sites. Not only that, It would have ensured that council tenants living in sheltered accommodation would still be able to rely on the council to undertake repairs to their properties without having to pay for them.
Rather than force through their own Budget, Labour and their Leader Lewis Herbert and the Executive Councillor for Housing Kevin Price should have reflected on the clear message that the Housing Committee sent.
Council tenants agree with the non Labour members of the Housing Committee, including the Council Tenant representatives, that the proposals in the amendment are really needed.
Instead, whichever way elected representatives actually voted, we have ended up with a Labour Housing Budget, that has had to be forced on to the Council and tenants. Labour has failed to listen to the views that council tenants have voiced and to make the most of what can be achieved for them in a very tough environment. It is a very arrogant step that the Labour ruling group has taken and makes a mockery of their concerns about inequality.
The Liberal Democrats will continue to listen to council tenants across the city and act as a champion for their views against the increasingly remote ruling Labour Group.”
The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, Rod Cantrill has welcomed the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee’s Autumn Budget 2017 Report that was published today. The report calls for the government to remove the Local Authority Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap to enable councils such as Cambridge to build more council houses.
Rod Cantrill commented:
“We all know that the housing market in Cambridge and the surrounding area is broken. Residents can’t afford to rent let alone buy in the city. Although the £70m of devolved funding Cambridge has received is allowing the council to build 500 council houses, this will only address part of the need. The scale of the need is highlighted by the some 2,500 households who are currently on the Housing Needs Register.
By lifting the cap on borrowing the government has imposed, Cambridge City Council would be able to borrow funds to build enough new council houses to meet this need. I will continue to call for the government to remove the cap as soon as possible so that Cambridge can build these much need new homes.”
The Housing Scrutiny committee voted to support the Liberal Democrat housing revenue amendment when it met on Wednesday evening. The amendment included helping larger families, who will be tenants in the 500 new council houses being built, save up to £2,000 a year by setting the council rent at a lower social rent rather than the higher Local Housing Allowance level that the council is proposing to charge.
In addition, It committed the council to undertake a baseline review of the state communal and community areas across all councils housing sites, so that areas that are in need of repair and improvement can be identified and work can take place.
As a result of the vote the ruling Labour Group’s budget has to reflect the Liberal Democrat revenue amendment. The Labour Executive Councillor for Housing, did not approve the revised budget and as a result the decision now has to be taken by the Leader of the Council.
Rod Cantrill, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokes commented
“Our proposals provide the much needed help for council tenants here in the city. I appreciate the support from the Independent and tenant members of the committee. I hope that the Leader, Councillor Herbert recognises the strength of views expressed by the committee and agrees to support the Liberal Democrat amendment, so that our important measures to help council tenants can be actioned.”
The Cambridge City Council Liberal Democrat Group's amendment to the Housing Budget that will be tabled at the Housing Scrutiny committee on Wednesday 17th January provides much needed help to Cambridge council tenants, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in the city.
Councillor Rod Cantrill, Liberal Democrat Shadow Housing Spokes commented:
"Our amendment provides much needed help for council housing tenants. Many tenants, particularly new ones, have told us about not being able to make ends meet and they are worried about the changeover to Universal Credit this year. They are also fed up with the state of many of the communal and community areas where they live, that is impacting on community spirit.
"Our proposals will help large families renting one of the new 500 new council houses to save up to £2,000 per year. In addition, we will hire more staff to help existing tenants moving to Universal Credit, to ensure the move is as smooth as possible. We will also make a big investment of up to £1m in improving the communal and community spaces across the council's housing portfolio.
"Finally, the council is looking to force council tenants to pay for small repairs. This will hit all tenants, but will hit vulnerable tenants the most, such as those in sheltered housing. We will ensure the council continues to provide free small repairs for sheltered housing tenants and will incorporate this into tenancy agreements so that a cut cannot be introduced in the future."
The amendment reflects the concerns that council tenants across the city have voiced regarding the cost of living in a new council property, the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit and the deterioration of the community and estate areas on many of the housing sites.
The Liberal Democrat proposals seek to:
Save a large Cambridge family renting one of the new 500 council houses up to £2,000 per year
- The Liberal Democrats propose to rent out new large council houses at the historical social rent level rather than the more expensive Local Housing Allowance level proposed by the Council
- The move would provide much needed help for large families renting 3 bedroom or more properties (over 250 such households on the Housing Register at this time)
- These families are finding it really hard to make ends meet, and may have their benefits capped when Universal Credit is introduced
Employ an additional housing officer to assist tenants in the transition to Universal Credit in 2018
- The pilot roll out of Universal Credit highlights the challenges people face when their benefit payments are put into a single payment, particularly vulnerable people
- Many council tenants are vulnerable, so this is a much needed role to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible for them
Undertake a baseline inspection of the communal and estate areas and undertake up to £1m investment renewal programme
- The council has many communal and community spaces across its housing portfolio that often tenants pass to get to their home, their upkeep and maintenance is critical to the wellbeing of the community
- The condition of these areas has deteriorated, often with existing budgets for upkeep not being spent
- This measure will be a tangible step by the council to show tenants that it cares about them and their communities
Continue higher level of response repairs for vulnerable tenants in sheltered housing
- Council is exploring ways of reducing the response repairs that it pays for, forcing tenants to meet the cost. This will have a big impact on tenants, particularly vulnerable ones such as those living in sheltered housing accommodation
- This step ensures that the council continues to meet the cost of response repairs for sheltered housing tenants and not only that, will make it explicit in their tenancy agreement so that changes can not be introduced in the future.
City Lib Dems are pushing for 80% of new homes at the council-owned Mill Road depot site to be "affordable" and are also keen to pioneer a new living rent focused on tenants' income, not the market.
Housing Spokesperson Cllr Rod Cantrill is urging a bold approach in order to tackle Cambridge's chronic housing crisis.
That means doubling the normal 40% affordable homes target and setting rents at a third of tenants' income - an innovative model not yet adopted outside London.
Rod told us: "If we can't be bold and pioneering on a council-owned site like the Mill Road depot, where can we?
"The housing market in Cambridge is broken and requires huge ambition and guts to fix it. This is a critical test for the Labour-run Council."
The Lib Dems' living rent scheme would see rent determined based on one third of the tenants' income, making it more affordable for low income workers to live in the city.
In September 2016, nine new council houses were completed on Hawkins Road, replacing a set of garages with desperately needed new homes. Initially there were some objections to the plans, but I have spoken to many affected residents who understand the extent of the housing crisis and who were glad to support the project.
Sadly, one year later and to the considerable frustration of the community, these houses continue to sit empty. Failures in project management mean that the properties remain without electricity and, in turn, more people suffer due to the Cambridge housing crisis.
These houses are just one part of the ‘146 Programme’, a project to build 146 homes across the city and awarded to the developers at Keepmoat. The management of this contract has clearly failed, with local Cllr Kevin Price taking to Cambridge News to voice his frustrations. Cllr Price blames Keepmoat for the delays and failures (and seeks to end their contract). As the Exec Councillor for Housing, this is the the crudest form of contract management available to Cllr Price and fails to address the project management weaknesses of the Council that led to these delays in the first place.
I have raised this issue with Rod Cantrill, the local Housing Spokes for the Lib Dems, who has repeatedly challenged the Council Exec for faster delivery of homes. He recently commented that Hawkins Road is another “illustration of the shameful position the council has got itself into. When there are over 2500 households on the councils waiting list, it can’t even deliver 9 new homes for 9 of those households.”
Nine new homes are not going to solve the Cambridge crisis, but they are going to solve the crisis for nine households currently unable to find security in our city. The project could also be used as an important lesson for improvement in the future. I recently congratulated Kevin Price on his appointment to Chair of the GCP Assembly, but upon reflection I would recommend that Cllr Price should take lessons from this recent failures and refocus his efforts on his existing responsibilities to deliver homes in our city.
A £193m bid to unlock an extra 5,200 new homes on and around the site of Cambridge’s Sewage Works could go forward to the Government, if the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority accepts a recommendation to back it at their meeting on 27th September.
Success with the bid to the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund would enable the relocation of Anglian Water’s plant outside the city and the realisation of the full potential of the important north Cambridge site, transforming the scale of development near the new train station from the currently envisaged 2,400 new homes to 7,600.
Cllr Rod Cantrill and Cllr Tim Bick
The bid offers the prospect of realising the ambitious plan for this site set by the Liberal Democrats when in power. It comes shortly after Cambridge City Council’s Labour administration refused to do any more about it, preferring to settle for much more modest development there and fewer new homes.
Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the City Council Lib Dems, said: “The comprehensive redevelopment of this site for both jobs and housing is really positive for the Cambridge area. By any standards 7,600 new homes, over 3,000 of which should be affordable, can make a vital contribution to our serious shortage of housing. It is a brownfield site, close to public transport and employment: ideal to accommodate Cambridge’s growth. To respond to the local housing crisis, it is essential to be imaginative and bold – and work for the long term. It was tragic that Labour were unwilling to work for this – but we’re pleased it has been rescued by others.
“Last year Labour threw in the towel and just left it to others. It is great that South Cambridgeshire District Council and Anglian Water had the same ambition to keep this alive that the Lib Dems had in setting the ambition in the first place.”
Cllr Rod Cantrill, Lib Dem runner-up in the Mayoral election earlier this year and a member of the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee said: “The next stage with this bid will be a test for the Mayor and Combined Authority. They commissioned an independent evaluation of it alongside two others, one in Huntingdon and the other at Wisbech – and the Cambridge bid came out on top. So will they follow the evidence – or will they now play politics? I’m assuming that the city’s Labour council leader has come round and will now be supporting it. It remains to be seen what the others will do. We will be watching very closely.”