INTERVIEW: Council optimistic it has come through Peterborough's homelessness crisis
After nearly two years of rising homelessness, intense scrutiny and a housing deal which made international news, there is now optimism that Peterborough has come through the other side of a sudden and unexpected crisis.
Before April 2016 the city council had such a surplus of temporary accommodation that it had to pay out to a hostel owner for under-utilising its beds, but soon the number of people who were homelessness went “through the roof.”
The problem, which the council said was largely due to welfare reforms and a greater tax burden on landlords, grew so bad that up to 40 families at a time were being put in Travelodges at a huge cost, but there is now a “real sense of optimism” according to Adrian Chapman, the council’s service director for community and safety.
In an interview with the PT alongside Sean Evans, the council’s housing needs manager, Mr Chapman said: “There is real optimism for the first time in a long time that we have a direction of travel that will get us over what we have been experiencing for the last couple of years.”
The optimism comes in part from a £34 million investment in buying up houses (which will mean an end to using Travelodges) through a housing company set up by the council and housing association Cross Keys Homes, which will deliver temporary and permanent accommodation.
Moreover, the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act in April, which requires councils to work with households for 56 days before they risk becoming homeless, rather than 28 days, will force the city council to focus on homelessness prevention.
Mr Chapman said: “This gives us a real opportunity to get in there early with our voluntary sector partners, with our social landlord partners and with the rest of the organisations here to find solutions that keep people living where they’re living.”
The act also means the council can step in quicker to talk to landlords when they begin evicting a tenant. Mr Evans said: “In most cases we are confident we will stop the eviction and enable the person to continue living in that home.”
Another idea coming in is to lease properties from landlords (possibly for five years), giving them a guaranteed rent, while the council would fund repairs and maintenance.
This preventative approach will be delivered by hiring new officers who will help families at an earlier stage. A similar approach in Southwark, London, saw a third of cases not reach the stage where temporary accommodation was needed, according to Mr Evans.
He added: “We want the harmful effects of homelessness to be minimised as much as possible, and we will continue to work very hard until we get to that point.”
For both men, the past two years have been intense. Mr Chapman added: “Nobody would have wanted to be where we are, but we have a real clear direction which I’m really excited about, as is Sean.”
Homelessness spiked here, and the rest of the country, in April 2016, according to Mr Chapman, who said “it couldn’t have been predicted” with the council until that point seeing a reduction in homelessness presentations,
The homelessness total rose from 97 in 2015 to 328 by October 2017, forcing the council to use Travelodges as temporary accommodation. The controversial St Michael’s Gate deal (see bottom left story) was revealed by the PT in September 2016. And a year later we revealed that Barnet was moving its homeless into 28 city properties.
The council is now investing £34 million to buy properties for both temporary and permanent housing, including 29 properties at Midland Road in West Town.