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Caithness News Bulletins June 2004
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP
Highland Councillors are being asked to consider an action plan which will tackle the lack of affordable housing to rent or buy in the area by doubling investment over the next five years to provide over 1,000 affordable new houses.
In a report to the full council meeting on Thursday 24 June, Gordon Fisher, Director of Housing, says that the Council would be eligible to receive additional funding of £50 million over the next five years through the Scottish Executive’s Regeneration Fund, which links regeneration funding to their Community Ownership Programme.
A housing needs study has identified a shortage of up to 5,000 affordable houses over the next five years. The proposed funding, he says, would allow the Council to make significant progress towards meeting the pressing housing needs of people in the Highlands and help remove a barrier to economic growth in many rural Highland communities.
The move to Community Ownership, he states, would have significant implications for tenants because it would result in the transfer of ownership and management of the Council’s housing stock of 15,000 properties to a new not-for-profit landlord.
Tenants would be fully consulted before any decision was taken. In addition the move to Community Ownership would unlock money that could be invested in improvements to the homes of existing tenants.
The Council’s housing debt – the money borrowed to build and improve the houses over many years would then be written off. The part of tenants’ rents that currently goes on interest and repayments – totaling £17 million this year – would be released for housing improvements.
The Council considered transferring its housing stock in November 2001. At that time it decided that it could retain its housing while keeping rents affordable.
However, Mr Fisher said
the proposed new investment of £50 million that the Community Ownership
Programme would offer for affordable housing has led the Council to
revisit the issue.
If the Council did go ahead, there would still be further discussions with tenants as part of the development of a transfer proposal. For any transfer to take place it would need the backing of the majority of tenants voting in a ballot.
Tenants would have more
direct say in the running of any new social landlord, being represented on
the board alongside Council and independent representatives. The new
landlord would also offer guarantees on rents, and tenants’ existing
rights such as the right to buy would be protected.
Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Council’s Housing and Social Work Committee, welcomed the report, which is being submitted following a recent meeting with Margaret Curran, Minister for Communities.
Councillor Davidson said: “We know from our tenants that the lack of affordable housing is their main concern. The Community Ownership Programme could give us a major opportunity to invest in new affordable housing. It would also enable improvements to be carried out to tenants’ homes which we could not otherwise afford without raising rents.”