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Caithness News Bulletins March 2003

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COUNCIL HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING TO COMBAT HOMELESSNESS

Without a significant increase in quality affordable social rented housing to provide permanent, temporary and emergency accommodation, The Highland Council and its housing partners will not be able to eliminate homelessness in the area.

Members of the Councilís Housing and Social Work Committee have agreed the Councilís Joint Homelessness Strategy backed a report "Tackling Homelessness in Highland", which will be presented to the Scottish Executive by the end of this month. It highlights what action the Council will take with its partners to prevent and alleviate homelessness in Highland.

It states there is a need to provide at least an additional 285 new affordable homes per year, requiring an additional £13 million per year in the housing association development programme. to meet the need for affordable housing in Highland.

Reported homelessness has almost doubled since 1983. There are almost 8,000 households on the list for Council housing and in 2002-2003, the total number of households presenting themselves to the Council as homeless increased by 14% to 1,100.

Those particularly vulnerable to homelessness are: -

  • Young people, under the age of 25;

  • Children and families;

  • People with mental health difficulties

  • People with complex needs, such as mental health difficulties and also substance abuse problems;

  • Individuals leaving institutions such as prison or hospital.

Housing in Highland, the report adds, is under pressure for a number of reasons:

  • Incomes are on average lower and with many people working in low output industries; with insecure employment or with seasonal and part time work this means that many are less able to compete in the housing market.

  • There is population and household growth in many parts of Highland which, combined with a shortage of housing, leads to high house and land prices that many cannot afford.

  • High levels of second/holiday-home ownership mean that many houses are not accessible to the local population.

  • Affordable rented housing is limited, exacerbated by extensive uptake of the Right to Buy meaning that the affordable rented housing stock is decreasing.

  • Private rented housing is under great pressure in areas of high housing need and demand and therefore difficult to access and often expensive. It is also more likely to be poor quality housing. This particularly affects single people and young people.

The strategy report states: "Only those households assessed as being homeless, or potentially homeless, and in Ďpriority needí are entitled to permanent housing by the Council by current law. This is around half of those who apply to the Council (522 households in 2001/02).

"Other households who are homeless but not in priority need are only entitled to advice and information and temporary accommodation for a limited period. They have very few options such as trying to obtain housing, usually a short term tenancy in the limited and highly priced private rented sector, or stay with friends or families. This means that as well as providing support and accommodation for those housed by the Council, there is a need to make sure that high quality services are in place to help people to access housing from other sources and assistance is provided to help people to keep their homes when homelessness is threatened.

"The experience of services and organisations who work with homeless people in Highland is that a significant proportion of homeless people, knowing that their chances of getting housed by the Council are limited do not bother applying as homeless. Consequently an increase in demand for any new services that are set up must be expected and planned for."