COUNCILLORS in Sheffield are set to approve plans to invest £500 million over the next five years to build new council homes and improve existing stock, but it comes with the prospects of rent rises for the city’s tenants.
The plans form part of the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) business plan for 2020/21, which will be discussed by the cabinet during its meeting this week.
Last year, the council committed to providing 1,600 new council homes by 2023/24 and this year it plans to extend this by an additional 1,500. This will take the total to 3,100 new council homes over the next decade.
Overall, the business plan highlights the council’s aim to address the number of new affordable homes available and to provide more choice for those trying to move into council housing, as well as improving thousands of existing council properties.
Other measures include the continuation of tower block safety works and making changes to surrounding areas and the environment of council properties and estates.
“We have ambitious plans to provide housing that gives people options, meets the demand and varying needs of our residents, and creates thriving communities,” said Councillor Paul Wood, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety.
“The truth is there isn’t sufficient affordable housing in the city, we don’t have enough options available within our council housing stock and we need to maintain the quality of tenants’ existing homes.
“We are tackling all of these issues head on, investing millions of pounds to make sure people in Sheffield have suitable, well maintained homes that they can afford and be proud of.
“As well as all of these benefits to our housing offer, this level of investment over the next few years will also create hundreds of employment and apprenticeship opportunities for local people, providing essential jobs and up-skilling our future tradespeople.”
The additional council homes will include a wider range of housing types, including new Older Persons Independent Living with Care, new homes for younger people and families as well as accommodation for people with specific needs including learning disabilities and other supported housing.
However, the council says its main priority and biggest investment will be in the city’s existing council housing stock, to carry out maintenance and improvements that will make sure homes remain safe, modern and warm. This will include updating kitchens, bathrooms, windows, doors, roofs and improving communal areas.
The council also plans to continue improving services for tenants and leaseholders, particularly the most vulnerable tenants such as elderly or disabled people, those who need support to live independently and those who are managing complex health or mental health issues. Part of this plan is to improve the local environments and surrounding areas, ensuring that neighbourhoods are safe and well managed.
Meanwhile, the ongoing fire safety works will include sprinklers and fire stopping works on tower blocks, and continuing to invest in roofing replacement and electrical upgrades.
This investment in new homes and improvements to existing homes and services is funded through tenant rents and borrowing.
Councillors will also be asked to approve rents rises for the city’s tenants. For the last four years rents have been reduced by 1% per year in line with Government rent policy. As a result, Sheffield says it has lost 13% of its projected rental income which has had a “significant impact” on the business plan.
The Government is now allowing councils to increase rents, which will mean an average increase of 2.7% or £1.98 per week for tenants if approved by councillors.
But the council said there will be no increase in service charges for tenants in sheltered or furnished accommodation and no increase in charges for community heating.
“We understand that some tenants may have concerns about this small increase, which is on average £1.98 per week, but after four years of rent reductions, the average rent for a council property in Sheffield is still lower than it was in 2016, and we will of course continue to work with tenants who are struggling to pay their rent,” Wood added.
“This increase is vital if we are to maintain tenant services, improve the standards of our properties and develop more social housing to address the needs of local people.”