New head of housing says he will continue push for affordable homes
Released: Monday, 08 April 2019
The new head of housing at Adur & Worthing Councils today pledges to keep working with developers to find more affordable homes in the area and to help tackle the growing problem of homelessness.
Akin Akinyebo says his mission to help find solutions to housing problems will concentrate on three fronts; early intervention of those at risk of homelessness, working with developers to increase the number of affordable new homes and cracking down on rogue landlords letting substandard premises.
“These are very important issues that impact the daily lives of the residents of Adur and Worthing hence the demand for our service continues to increase,” he says.
Akin, who has stepped up from the deputy head post, to take charge says there are genuine problems with housing shortages in Adur and Worthing although they are not as acute as in London where he worked before coming to the south coast.
“Homelessness is increasing, through no fault of those who find themselves in that situation. Providing suitable temporary accommodation locally is a significant challenge as well as increasing the supply of affordable permanent homes.”
He says the Councils would continue to work towards a target that all new developments contain 30 per cent affordable homes. In rented accommodation the government defines affordable homes as costing no more than 80 per cent of the average local market rent. With home ownership mortgage payments on the property should be more than would be paid in rent on council housing but below market levels.
He also points out that for the first time in 30 years Adur Homes, the housing arm of the district council, will be building its first own council stock in developments at Albion Street and Cecil Norris House. For the past two years Adur & Worthing Councils brought together a range of professionals under a 'Preventing Homelessness Initiative' which has had the effect of helping to spot people beginning to struggle to stay in homes so that his staff can intervene to help prevent them losing the roof over their heads.
“It is important that we involve residents in shaping how our services evolve, particularly giving them a stronger voice, choice and influence over how we deliver our functions both as a landlord and as a local authority,” he says.
Adur District Council's Executive Member for Customer Services, Cllr Carson Albury, said:
“I am delighted with the appointment of Akin. He brings with him a wealth of experience. These are challenging times for housing but we remain committed to improving our service, responding promptly to our tenants' needs, ensuring enough affordable housing is built and doing all we can to prevent homelessness.”
Photo: Adur & Worthing Councils' new Head of Housing Akin Akinyebo
Questions for Akin Akinyebo, Adur & Worthing Councils' new Head of Housing.
Q: Can you explain who you are and a little of your background?
A: Working in the housing sector was not always my first 'love' when I was younger. You could say I got into the housing sector incidentally, then got 'hooked'. Now I love the job. I trained as a geologist, then later an IT systems engineer. I worked in these fields before getting into the housing sector. The early years of my housing career were spent in the Third Sector. This has given me invaluable experience of the issues those who use local authority services experience; having had to advocate and support the customers I served to access these services. Adur & Worthing Councils is the third local authority I have worked for; the previous two are in London. While the grim housing crisis in London is not yet reflected in Adur and Worthing, there is no doubt that a crisis already exists. I have had the opportunity to work across various sections within the housing sector, so my experience of housing is broad. Working with people is certainly more fun than working with rocks and machines!
Q: What does your new role entail?
A: As Head of Housing, my new role involves delivering high standard of housing management for Adur Homes, increasing the supply of affordable accommodation including good standard private rented accommodation and delivering a collaborative homelessness prevention service. These are very important issues that impact the daily lives of the residents of Adur and Worthing hence the demand for our service continues to increase. Housing services cannot operate in isolation. That is because the issues that affect those we service are not isolated. I will be responsible for ensuring that the tasks of housing services aligns with the actions of other parts of the Councils e.g. Revenue and Benefits, Environment including grounds maintenance and bins and so on.
The fact is the Council cannot meet the needs of our community on its own. Therefore, a key part of my role will be building partnerships and relationships with individuals and organisations within Adur and Worthing, and across the County and beyond.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges Councils' face with housing?
A: Our greatest challenge will be delivering a service our community can be proud of in the face of funding pressures and other external influences. Homelessness is increasing, through no fault of those who find themselves in that situation. Providing suitable temporary accommodation locally is a significant challenge as well as increasing the supply of affordable permanent homes. While the Councils are working hard to increase the supply of affordable homes in the community, we need to make sure that existing homes, especially those in the private sector are safe and suitable to live in. Adur Homes is a very important part of the Housing service. Significant investment is already taking place to improve the housing stock. We know we have to improve our service standards to Adur Homes residents.
As these changes gather pace, it is important that we involve residents in shaping how our services evolve, particularly giving them a stronger voice, choice and influence over how we deliver our functions both as a landlord and as a local authority. This requires a two way process which involves sharing information and ideas within a system where residents are able to influence decisions and take part in what is happening.
Q: How big a problem is homelessness in the district and borough and what are you doing about keeping the homeless off the streets?
A: Homelessness is increasing. While the sight of people sleeping rough may be the most visible part of homelessness, there are many more households either threatened with homelessness or who have lost their accommodation. Often times, the first we know of their situation is when they present homeless on the day. A significant number of households who come to us homeless or at risk of homelessness are in employment. Homelessness is not inevitable. A lot of households we work with could have been prevented from becoming homeless if the issues that led to their homeless situation were dealt with early. Now, I am not saying that those who become homeless are a fault for their situation. No. Most of those who become homeless would have been struggling with the challenges that led to their homeless for a while, trying to manage them as best as they can. Getting the right support to them in time would have increased the chances of them successful keeping their accommodation or finding another before they became homeless. However, getting the right support to those who need it as early as possible requires that we identify them even earlier. Identifying those at risk of homelessness as quickly as possible, requires more agencies looking out for the triggers of homeless among their service users,
In September 2017, Adur & Worthing Councils brought together a range of professionals under a 'Preventing Homelessness Initiative' This has resulted in more agencies looking out for the triggers of homeless, and assisting household to access the right support early. So you see, 'homelessness is everyone's business'.
A myriad of issues can lead an individual to lose their accommodation or sleep rough. Quick multi-agency intervention ensures the right support is provided to such individual, preventing them from sleeping on the streets a second them, and empowering them to successful sustain their next tenancy.
Q: What are you doing about making sure local people can afford to buy homes in the place they grew up? Why should people have to move away because house prices are so high?
A: Apart from London, the South East is the most expensive place to purchase a property. Adur and Worthing property costs are feeling the ripple effect of Brighton and London. Planning services and housing services are constantly in discussion with developers to increase the number of affordable homes built in the area. The current local plan requires that 30% of developments are affordable.
Q: Why aren't Councils building new affordable homes themselves or at the very least buying properties to help the situation?
A: A lot of local authorities have started building new affordable homes. The cost and the availability of land and lack of money to fund such developments has curtailed local authorities' ambitions. Adur and Worthing have a difficult situation. Sandwiched between the Downs and the sea, there is limited land to build on. In theory, lifting the cap will give local authorities greater freedom to finance the building of new homes through their Housing Revenue Account (HRA). However, this will only benefit local authorities that own a housing stock, as they will have a HRA account to borrow against. Worthing does not have any housing stock, so cannot borrow. For stock owning Council's such as Adur, there is a question on how much it can borrow prudently against its HRA when its present social use value will be very different from its open market use value in terms of credit risk. In other words, the amount a stock owning Council can borrow is heavily depends on the value of its housing stock. Adur is not a large stock owning council; therefore there is a limit to how much it will be able to borrow to significantly increase its housing stock. All these assumes there is land to build on. Land in Adur and Worthing is very competitive. Regardless of all this, Adur District will be building its first social home in 30 years. Planning approval has been granted for developments in Albion Street and Cecil Norris House. That is good news and certainly the beginning of the Adur building new homes. Furthermore, both Adur and Worthing are working with several developers, both registered providers and private developers, maximise the number of affordable properties in their new developments. The number of affordable properties being developed is on the rise.
Q: What can you do about the level of high rents? How do you tackle rogue private landlords?
A: As a local authority, we have no power to legislate on rents. Since March 2017, we have been working with the National Landlords Association to engage local landlords to increase the number of properties available to households on welfare benefit. We offer landlords who accept households on benefits advice and support to reduce the risk of rental loss. We also offer assistance to carry out checks they would otherwise have had to pay for. We are currently piloting a scheme co-designed with private sector landlords.
The Private Sector Housing Team is very proactive in identifying and supporting landlords to keep their properties safe and in good repair. The team have used the Councils' power under the Housing Act 2004 and more recently the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to compel landlords to make their properties safe and habitable. The team have successfully prosecuted landlords who have refused to comply with the enforcement orders to make their property safe.
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