Hackney's mayor defends £7m spend on homeless hostels - as he rules out 'moving families to Birmingham'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:32 23 March 2018
Some 2,900 households in the borough are without a home due to sky-high rents and pressure on housing. Emma Youle asks mayor Phil Glanville: is it time for the council to get tough and start moving people out of the borough?
The mayor of Hackney has said paying £41million a year to keep the homeless homeless is pushing the council to “breaking point” – as he called for the government to start listening over the housing crisis.
As Hackney faces a “perfect storm” of soaring rental prices and cuts to housing benefits, 2,900 households are without a permanent home in the borough.
They are forced to live for long periods in temporary accommodation, including hostels.
The Gazette’s Hidden Homeless campaign has revealed hundreds are now living in homeless hostels owned by private landlords – who were paid an estimated £7m by the council in 2016-17. Our campaign has shown conditions in some of the hostels are appalling.
Phil Glanville, Hackney’s mayor, blamed government housing policy. “You are just funnelling money into the hands of private landlords when you could actually be genuinely solving the housing crisis by building high quality, affordable homes,” he told the Gazette. “Costs continue to rise and you have the sense the government isn’t listening.”
The numbers living in temporary accommodation in Hackney have more than doubled since 2010, with 784 households in hostels and 328 in bed and breakfasts in 2016-17.
The Gazette asked the mayor whether it was time to get tough and tell people they will have to move out of Hackney to have any hope of securing a permanent, affordable rented home.
“We have always had that option within our homelessness policies,” he said. “But I would not want to lead a borough that made some great policy shift and basically said: ‘From now on we will not be housing people and not doing all we can to keep communities and families together.’”
He said it was a tough decision for any council to house a family in temporary accommodation rather than “moving them to Birmingham or points further north”.
But he stressed: “Families don’t want to move out of Hackney,” saying “it comes down to what the family wants”.
The council’s bill for temporary accommodation has risen from £9.5m in 2011-12 to £41m last year.
The government has said other London councils have reduced the costs and numbers living in temporary accommodation and it would expect Hackney to do the same.
But the mayor said: “Where other boroughs have got rid of their hostels and housed people further away in the private rented sector, in Hackney we’ve taken hostels on and made sure we’ve housed people here.
“What we’re not doing is trying to place people all over London if we don’t have to.”
The Gazette found landlords are charging the council up to £274 a week for small double rooms at hostels.
The mayor insists the council is working hard to achieve value for money in its contracts.
“We are trying to work across boroughs, especially in east London, to make sure that the rates are reasonable and that boroughs don’t end up outbidding each other for temporary accommodation,” he said.
But he admitted councils are sometimes forced to pay market rates because of their duty to find emergency housing for the homeless. “Those relationships are tricky. You get to the situation where people are so desperate to find emergency accommodation they are willing to pay high rates,” he said.
Pushed on why the council could not insist on higher quality rooms given its estimated £7m spend with hostel providers, Mr Glanville said only that the council already inspects hostels once a year – more than it legally has to.
He added it would be “tricky” for the council to react more regularly to complaints because of its lack of money.
In the face of the escalating crisis Hackney has focused on building new housing, with its estate regeneration programme aiming to deliver 3,000 homes by 2024. More than half will be for social rent and shared ownership.
Since last year two new council-led housing developments have been completed, creating 273 homes on the King’s Crescent estate and 18 in the Great Eastern Buildings next to London Fields.
In the next 12 months another 253 homes are due, including 214 on the Colville Estate in Hoxton.
The council is also pushing ahead with a programme to develop underused land, such as garages and car parks, to provide more than 400 new homes – with 70 per cent of these for social rent or shared ownership.
The mayor has consistently called for the government to allow councils more freedom to build.
The 3,000 new homes are a fraction of what’s needed when compared to the 12,600 currently on the council’s housing list.
Meanwhile the mayor says the council is working to improve hostel provision.
“We’ve been focusing very much on conditions and also what other support services we can put in place,” he said. “So we’ve been piloting wifi and laundry services at some of our hostels. We’re about to open a new hostel in Seven Sisters Road, where we’re going to have staff based on site and support teams. So we’re trying to improve, listening to what residents have said.”
The charity Justlife is setting up a board to try and improve conditions in temporary accommodation in Hackney by bringing together council officers, homeless people and landlords.
Strategic lead Christa Maciver said: “We cannot keep waiting for more houses to be built or more legislation to be passed to work together to improve the health and wellbeing of all those living in temporary accommodation.”
Justlife will hold a meeting at Charter House Community Centre in Amhurst Road, E8 from 3-5pm next Thursday (March 29). If you would like to attend, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analysis: How is the housing crisis impacting on London boroughs?
The Gazette has found there is huge disparity in the way the housing crisis is affecting London boroughs, with some of the most deprived areas worst off.
Our research has shown 54,265 households across London were living in temporary accommodation in 2016-17.
The five worst affected boroughs were Newham (4,457), Enfield (3,244), Haringey (3,147), Brent (2,915) and Hackney (2,900).
At the other end of the table are Merton (186), Richmond (259), Camden (390), Greenwich (520) and Sutton (534).
The cost of paying for temporary housing is significant.
Newham Council spent £61m in 2016-17 compared with £3.5m in Merton. The knock-on impact of lost council services is inevitable.
Hackney has the highest number of people in the capital living in hostels - more than double any other local authority.
The mayor says this is because Hackney does not force homeless people to move out of the borough.
And other councils, in areas where rents are less steep, can house people in private rented properties.
This is not an option in Hackney where only 3 per cent of homes are affordable to those on housing benefits.
So hostels are the only option for people who want to stay near to jobs, schools, friends and loved ones, or just simply remain in the borough where they have lived all their lives.
What is desperately needed to address the housing crisis London-wide is new genuinely affordable homes.
Until then, it’s valid to ask if the government should consider extra financial support or help for those councils bearing the brunt of housing need.