Dermot McKibbin reports on social cleansing in Bromley and the decision of a Tory council to reopen a housing revenue account.
The Conservative Party in Bromley owes an apology to local taxpayers, homeless families rehoused into Kent, applicants on its rehousing list and the Conservative MP for Medway. The political decision to sell off the housing stock owned by Bromley Council in 1992 to a housing association has failed. (See this video about the supposed benefits of the housing stock transfer https://youtu.be/Ya21euK_x0k). With no housing revenue account, the council was unable to build any housing stock. The new landlord did not build enough replacement housing stock. The result has been that Bromley Council with no housing stock of its own has had to arrange temporary accommodation for homeless households in the private sector. This is very expensive. Due to high rents in the private rented sector in the borough, the council has struggled to provide temporary accommodation with private landlords. The rates at which housing benefit was payable did not match the private sector rents.
The result has been that the council has been rehousing homeless families in Kent to a staggering degree. A council question on 10 January 2018 revealed that 2,904 homeless families had been rehoused outside of the borough in the past 4 years. So many homeless households were rehoused by Bromley Council in Medway that the Mr Rehman Christi the Conservative MP for Gillingham complained to BBC South East News that Bromley had rehoused 200 homeless households in one year when there were already 5,480 households on local rehousing lists. (See https://youtu.be/KB2y4YZNuVU)
The council has formed a partnership with a private company for the sole purpose of acquiring and refurbishing up to 400 units to be used for rehousing homeless households. Nominations rights will last for 40 years.
At the meeting, a council officer remarked that all these properties were within the required one-hour travel time limit of Bromley. This is clearly not the case if you live in one of the wards in the North of the borough or if you have to travel by public transport. It takes well over an hour to travel from Bromley South to Canterbury by train !
Many people will consider that being moved to permanent accommodation in Kent will be very disruptive. Children will have to change school. There will be a loss of support networks and keeping in touch with family networks will be difficult for households on low incomes.
There appears to be some conflict between the council’s policy of rehousing homeless households and the code of guidance issued by the Secretary of State to local authorities in dealing with their housing duties.
At a committee meeting on 30 March 2021 the Director of Housing advised that there were roughly 1,800 households in temporary accommodation and 1,100 in expensive nightly temporary accommodation. See para 3.2 on agenda report.
These are serious numbers for an affluent borough such as Bromley.
At the July 2020 meeting of the full council, Bromley decided to re-open its housing revenue account due to ever growing numbers of homeless households and the expense this caused to local taxpayers. (https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/london-borough-to-set-up-hra-to-bring-down-temporary-accommodation-costs-67021)
According to Inside Housing:
The council estimates it needs to expand the pipeline of affordable housing in the borough by 1,000 homes to bring down temporary accommodation costs – or see its £16.9m yearly budget gap grow to £26.5m by 2024/25.
The council has agreed to pay for between 500 to 510 units to be funded through the Housing Revenue Account. The first sites are supposed to be completed in September 2021 are:
- 25 units on Burnt Ash Lane Car Park
- 25 units at Bushell Way
- 10 units at Anerley Town Hall Overflow Car Park
These will be the first council houses to be built in the Borough for nearly 40 years. In common with many other local authorities, they will be built at the factory and assembled on site.
The planned rehousing of so many homeless households out of the borough are reminiscent of gerrymandering by the Conservatives in Westminster. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Porter)
Approximately 30% of households made homeless in Bromley are as a result of being evicted from the private rented sector. However, Conservatives on Bromley Council have declined to vote to end no-fault evictions in the private rented sector. A promise to this effect was contained in the Conservative party manifesto at the last general election.
Despite the desperate need for more affordable accommodation in the borough, Bromley councillors refused to make any decision in January 2021 on charging the maximum amount of council tax on the owners of empty properties. Bringing back empty properties into use can lead to more affordable local accommodation for homeless households.