Call for action on Council estate maintenance standards

Not surprisingly many tenants are bemused as rents continue to rise while maintenance standards on estates fall.

Fly tipping on Green Lane Acomb garage forecourt

Fly tipping on Green Lane (Acomb) garage forecourt today

Council tenants have faced a 28% increase in rent levels over the last 5 years.

The York Council is expected to have a £15 million surplus balance on its housing account at the end of this year.

Yet little has been invested in improvements and communal areas are too often targets for graffiti and dumping.

Weeks elapse before clean ups are arranged

York Council Housing rents and balances. Click to enlarge

York Council Housing rents and balances. Click to enlarge

Strangely the York Council housing  department is the only part of the local authority which has seen no cuts at all in funding during the last 4 years yet service standards are declining.

There is little evidence that the Labour Councillors who are responsible for Council housing ever routinely visit estates to ensure that service standards are acceptable.

Time for a change of approach we think!

Lib Dems call for an extra £500,000 to be spent on York’s estate regeneration

Liberal Democrats are calling for an extra £500,000 to be spent improving the condition of housing estates in York.

Fly tipping little Green Lane garage area

Restoring pride in Council estate environment

The extra funding will be focused on tidying-up communal areas, repairs, improvements to car parking facilities, and a re-launched programme to replace draughty windows.

The move follows concerns from council tenants, falling satisfaction levels with many estate services, and missed performance targets by Labour run City of York Council.

The proposals are part of the Liberal Democrat budget amendment, which will be debated at today’s full Council meeting.

The Lib Dems are calling for an extra £3 million to be put into frontline services such as road repairs, community centres and green bin collections.

The Lib Dem housing move is funded from the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – a ring-fenced housing account which currently has a surplus of £15 million and is split from the main council budget. Rents are being increased by 2% from April.

Cllr Ann Reid, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Housing, commented:

Verge damage Bramham Road

Dealing with parking issues

“Residents have contacted us concerned about issues such as overgrown weeds, damaged fencing, broken streetlights, littering and dog fouling. Basic services have suffered since 2011 and show Labour’s continued neglect and under-investment in the city’s estates.
“We want to put an extra £500,000 in from the Housing Revenue Account to tackle these issues. This budget is raised from council rent and charges and is there to be used for tenants. There is a substantial surplus and instead of storing money away in reserves the council should be spending more on estate improvements.”

—————–

The Lib Dems would spend £250,000 ‘capital’ from the HRA on improvements to:

a) draughty windows and

b) improved car parking facilities (dropped kerbs/verge crossovers/matrix verge protection outside tenants homes and better car parking facilities in communal areas) and the resurfacing of some car parks.

plus £250,000 ‘revenue’ from the HRA on council house and estate regeneration including the following schemes: 

  • removal of weeds,
  • cutting back overgrown trees and hedges,
  • repairs to communal areas and signs (e.g. dog fouling, no ball games),
  • audit and repair of fencing.

The full Lib Dem amendment will be tabled and debated at Thursday’s Budget Council.

Last July, it was revealed that tenants were less satisfied with where they live and the estate services they receive from the council while key performance targets were missed: www.yorklibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/0879798/york-tenants-less-satisfied-with-where-they-live-says-new-report

York Council tenants show concerns in secret report

Only 49% now satisfied with tenants choice modernisation work

Behind closed doors logo

The annual report into satisfaction with York Council services has shown some growing concerns amongst York Council tenants.

The report was considered at yet another behind closed doors meeting last week. It pointedly makes no comment about Council house sales or the fact that – for the first time in many years – during 2013/14 sales exceeded the number of new affordable properties added to the rent pool.

While on most activities performance has been consistent over the years there are areas of growing concern.

  • Tenant’s choice satisfaction with modernisation work was down from 76% to only 49%.
  • Only 44% of tenants who complained said that they were satisfied with the final outcome
  • Satisfaction with the Council “listening to tenant’s views and acting on them” fell from 67% in 2012 to 62% last year
Garage areas neglected

Garage areas neglected

The biggest concern remains the condition of local estates with tenants increasingly critical of the appearance and state of repair of local neighbourhood and communal areas.

Garage areas are poorly maintained, many verges are damaged and gutters are overgrown with weeds.

The Council is apparently going to appoint a private contractor to clean the communal areas of flats leaving the estate workers to concentrate on litter removal and general maintenance. Tenant satisfaction with garden care (also contracted to the private sector) has attracted many complaints this year.

However, overall, there was some good news for the Council with 87% saying they were satisfied with the service provide down only 1% from the previous year,

York house building lags behind rest of country

Despite the economic recovery, York lagged behind the rest of the country in the number of new homes completed last year.Behind closed doors logo

A report published after a “behind closed doors” meeting held last week revealed that only 50 affordable homes were built in the City last year.

This is down from the 282 built during the last year of the Liberal Democrat led Council administration in 2010/2011.

It compares to the annual target of 790 new homes adopted by Labour Councillors following a “strategic market assessment”.

On average, 150 affordable homes had been built annually during the pervious 5 years.

Alarmingly the number of new affordable homes being added by the Council is now less than the number of Council houses being sold under “Right to Buy” legislation

Year

RTB Applications RTB Sales

11/12

20 6
12/13 88

23

13/14 77

53

The Council has failed to invest the income from RTB sales effectively

The Council has also failed to use its substantial £12.86 million housing surplus to buy empty homes on the open market, and resolutely refuses to use the “New Homes Bonus” (money provided by the government to recognise house building success) on affordable homes.

Small wonder that Labour did not want these figures to be debated in public.

The only crumb of comfort was that – in line with the rest of the country – the total number of planning applications for new homes rose from 370 units in 2012 to 1578 last year, although a significant proportion of these were for specialist student flats.

Tenant satisfaction with Council estates in York tumbles

Dog fouling, lack of parking, rubbish and litter top concerns

Most York Council tenants continue to be satisfied with the quality of their home and the repairs and maintenance service.

Estates increasingly neglected

Estates increasingly neglected

However many remain dissatisfied with the opportunities available to influence management decisions.

And only 44% were satisfied with the final outcome of complaints that they had made.

However, the most significant result to be revealed, by the Councils annual survey of tenant’s views, comes on satisfaction levels with conditions on local estates.

The satisfaction level is down by 5%.

This comes as little surprise with many estates beginning to look neglected.

Weed growth, potholed bitmac, damaged verges and neglected communal areas all add up to an increasingly depressing environment.

The report on the survey results was taken to another behind closed doors meeting last week.
Behind closed doors logo

The report candidly admits,

“Customers have delivered a clear message that their estate services require attention. As well as a decrease in those very satisfied or fairly satisfied, there has a 5% increase in those very dissatisfied or fairly dissatisfied (10% 2012: 15% 2013)”.

The Labour Councillor with responsibility for Housing (Simpson Laing) failed to order any action which might stop the decline.

Tenant satisfaction results click to enlarge

Tenant satisfaction results click to enlarge

 

 

York Council U turn on Council housing policy

It looks like the York Council will finally take our advice and buy flats on the open market to increase the availability of Council homes in the City.

We have long advocated using the substantial surplus that the Council holds on its revenue account to buy empty properties on the open market. Labour has resisted this over the last 3 years but finally seem to have some to their senses.

They paln to buy eight two-bedroomed and six one-bedroomed flats which are being constructed on Lindsay Avenue. The flats will have easy access to shops, bus routes, GPs and a Post Office. The Council says that the homes will be offered as downsizing opportunities for tenants aged over 55.

However over 50% of the people on the housing waiting list are single people seeking one bedroomed accommodation.

The Council should buy existing empty properties on the open market to help these residents (many of whom live in larger social housing properties which would be freed up for families).

Under the last Labour Government Council house building reached a, post second world war, low.

Under the last Labour Government Council house building reached a, post second world war, low.

Other downsizing schemes with housing association partners include those in Tang Hall, Huntington and Acomb, plus a further scheme completing in June 2014 at Water Lane, Clifton. This is in addition to a new council house building programme, of which sites at Beckfield Lane, Chaloners Road, Fenwick Street and Newbury Avenue are proposing apartments for people downsizing.

This new site on the corner of Lindsey Avenue and Sowerby Road has been marketed since summer 2012 as a development opportunity. With no interest expressed in running the former public house as a business, or the site as a commercial development opportunity, the site was auctioned in September 2013 and was purchased by York-based RHW Developments which has experience in delivering affordable housing.

The planning application was submitted in late March 2014, the outcome is expected in June 2014 with building work to start this summer with the completed homes ready in the summer 2015. If approved, the acquisition price would be paid in stages during construction.

The Council has declined to reveal how much it is paying for each property.

Chaloners Road development exhibition on Wednesday

Chaloners Road garages

Chaloners Road garages

A Public Information Drop-In Event has been organised for those interested in the plans for new Council flats on Chaloners Road and Newbury Avenue.

The Council has still to confirm how it will deal with the extra car parking requirements generated by the vehicles displaced from the site.

The “drop in” takes place on

Wednesday 16th April between 4pm – 7pm

at the York and district Indoor Bowls Club, Thanet Road, YO24 2NW

York Council to seek help in managing it’s housing account.

A review of the, York Councils, Housing Business Plan is being put off until July.

The new plan was to have been revealed at a “Cabinet” meeting scheduled to take place next month.

Instead, apparently the Darlington Borough Council are to be involved in a “peer review” of Council Housing management in York. Darlington is also a Labour controlled local authority.

The delay will come as little surprise to many tenants who have complained about lack of progress with much needed estate improvements. There is a long list of outstanding work including many requests for improved car parking, better security, renewal of fencing and upgrades to communal areas.

It appears that, despite the backlog of work, this years (2013/14) estate improvement budget may not be fully utilised.

The Councils decision, not to use some of its £13 million surplus to buy additional Council homes on the open market, should be scrutinised.

NB The Council have again put off considering a report on how to deal with parking enforcement problems on Council estates.

The issue was first scheduled for consideration last autumn, but is now unclear when – or even if – the matter will be debated.

Council house rent arrears in York

The York Council has published details of the rent arrears owed by its Council house tenants during this year.

• Jan-13 £631,225 (households in arrears 2785)

• Feb-13 £709,637 (3196)

• Mar-13 £491,835 (2142)

• Apr-13 £637,442 (2877)

• May-13 £697,883 (2958)

• Jun-13£741,570 (3090)

• Jul-13 £779,029 (3149)

Although arrears have increased since Labour took control of the Council there is little evidence to suggest that the spare room subsidy (sometimes referred to as the bedroom tax) has had a major effect on levels of rent arrears.