Tony Dyer and Carla Denyer chatting, Nov 2019

Green plans to unlock millions of pounds for upgrading and building council homes

20 February 2021

Millions of pounds could be raised to fund a programme of council house building, repairs and upgrades in Bristol if a Green amendment to this year’s council budget is approved. The amendment, proposed by Councillor Carla Denyer, could unlock hundreds of new Council homes, boosting the Council’s housing budget by £8.5m over the next 5 years, and £51m over the course of the Council’s 30-year housing plan. The proposal would increase council housing rents by 1% plus inflation – an increase of just 87 pence per week from where rents were in 2015.

Affordable housing is urgently needed in Bristol and there are reported to be 13,000 families on the Council’s waiting list for social housing.  The current administration has failed to meet its housing targets, with an average of 213 affordable homes built each year in Bristol out of a target of 800 per year. By providing more revenue, the Green amendment would increase the amount the Council are able to borrow from government for new house building, helping to scale up the building programme.

As well as construction of new homes, the amendment would pay for long-awaited repairs and maintenance, including insulation and better energy efficiency, reducing the cost of living for existing tenants. Officer comments on the Green amendment note that “additional revenue from increased rent may be used to make rapid improvements which contribute to improved health outcomes, or which lead to long-term savings through increased energy efficiency.”  Officers also estimated that for between 50-65% of tenants the increase would be covered by automatic increases in existing benefits such as Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, so wouldn’t cost the tenant anything.

Greens say they hope the amendment will have the support of Labour councillors after backbench Labour councillors and some candidates publicly called on the council to include the change in the budget.

The amendment’s proposer, Green councillor Carla Denyer, said:

“Bristol is facing a housing crisis and a climate crisis – this amendment would help us to tackle both of them, by providing critical funding for repairs and warmer home improvements, and leveraging borrowing from government to build more council homes.”

“I understand concerns around putting up any rent, but this amounts to just a 1.06% increase from 2015 levels. We’ve heard from some council tenants that they would welcome this rise if it means getting repairs in their flats sorted sooner or improving their homes to lower energy bills and carbon emissions. Better still, because of the way housing funding works, this small increase in revenue for the housing department would unlock millions of pounds more in government borrowing to build new council homes.

“The thousands of families on the waiting list are stuck in expensive private rented accommodation, with average private rents in Bristol three times higher than council rents. The more council housing we can build and renovate, the more people we can get out of expensive privately rented houses and into council homes. Bristol can’t afford not to go for this.”

Green candidate for Southville, Tony Dyer, agreed:

“As someone lucky enough to grow up in the stability and security provided by council housing, with family members who are still council tenants and others stuck on the housing waiting list, I support the proposal to raise council rents.

“For the last 40 years, we have seen an almost continuous attack by central government on the ability of councils to deliver real council housing.  Even the Tory government now accepts that the housing crisis cannot be fixed without allowing councils to build, giving us a window of opportunity to build the council houses that we all know are needed. How long this window will be open, no one can predict. I accept that this is not an easy decision for some, but, please support the rent increase, please support more council housing, please support providing stability and security for some of Bristol’s most deprived families.”

Green mayoral candidate, Sandy Hore-Ruthven, added:

“Everyone deserves a place to call home. If we really want to tackle the problem of homelessness and the 13000 households on the council housing waiting list we must invest.  Labour’s timid budget will leave Bristol with a legacy of families left without a permanent place to call home.  Our amendment will put Bristol on the path to full housing and contribute to our climate targets at no cost to the taxpayer.  This is yet another Labour failure to tackle the real problems in our city.”

 

Notes

See full details of the amendment below:

Description of Budget Amendment, Rationale and Implications 2021/22
£m
Service Implication Equalities Impact Assessment
Increasing the HRA revenue available will increase the 5 year capital programme and enable the Council to increase new Council house building and accelerate the programme of improvement works on the HRA stock and retrofitting towards Carbon neutrality.

The current HRA budget shows a running down of reserves to zero over the next few years.

If we are serious about a long-term commitment to council housing in Bristol, we need to ensure that we generate the income needed to maintain and improve the stock we have and to build new council housing to start accommodating some of  the thousands of households currently on the waiting list, paying private rents that are about 3x council rents, or living in inadequate accomodation.

1.7 Applying the rent increase in 2021/22 could deliver £8.5m over a five year period which will then be available to fund additional revenue or capital expenditure, or a combination of both. Additional revenue generated from rent increases would contribute to maintenance and repair and improvement programmes, which are likely to be of particular benefit to those groups who are over-represented in council tenancies compared to Bristol demographics overall i.e. Black, Asian and minority ethnic tenants; disabled tenants; and female tenants.

Likewise any failure to adequately fund council housing improvements is likely to have a disproportionate impact for these groups, and in particular for disabled and older tenants who may be more reliant on timely adaptations or adjustments. This risk may be mitigated by providing additional funding required for improvements from council reserves.

Increase in council rents by inflation + 1%.

For around two thirds of tenants, this rise will be covered by central government through housing benefit or universal credit.

Even after this rise, average council rents will still be less than £1 a week above 2015/16 levels.

(1.7) Increasing dwelling rents by CPI +1% would result in average rent levels for BCC council homes increasing from £81.35 to £82.57 (an average increase of £1.22 per week).  This would make rents £0.87 higher than average rent levels in 2015/16 (when they were an average of £81.70). This is a 1.06% increase over the 6 year period. This keeps rent levels significantly lower than  market rents for Bristol. For a significant proportion of tenants (estimate between 50-65%) the increase would be met by additional Housing Benefit or Universal Credit (housing element).  The impact of the rent increase is an additional £1.7m income for 2021/22 and £51m (no inflationary uplift) income over the life of the 30 year HRA business plan. Raising council rents may have a disproportionately negative impact on council tenants who experience increased economic hardship – including additional hardships as a result of COVID-19 – in particular Black, Asian and minority ethnic tenants; disabled tenants; female tenants; and younger tenants.

Although unlikely to fully mitigate any immediate increase in financial pressure for these groups, additional revenue from increased rent may be used to make rapid improvements which contribute to improved health outcomes, or which lead to long-term savings through increased energy efficiency.

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