Building a local response to a national housing crisis

By Cllr Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council

Britain is deep in a housing crisis and people across the country are being failed by a system which has been crumbling for a decade or more.

With a lack of affordable properties, sky-rocketing rents and mortgage rates, landlords who aren’t maintaining quality homes, and red tape and planning obstacles preventing the right new homes being built in the right places, the situation is worsening day-by-day.

Speaking to residents, neighbours, and community groups, Oldhamers tell me the crisis is approaching breaking point. Young people are giving up hope of ever affording a home of their own, elderly residents are trapped in their homes because they can’t find suitable local accommodation to ‘down-size’ to, and for too many residents, conditions in rental properties are unacceptable.

We can’t let this continue.

While this is a national crisis, as a council, we must develop a local response.

Here in Oldham, we are facing unprecedented demands for housing services from our residents. Often from people in the most trying of circumstances.

Some are mums taking their kids and fleeing domestic abuse, others are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, no longer able to make their mortgage or rent payments.  As their last hope, we help them get a roof over their heads and a safe place to sleep, in emergency, temporary accommodation.

Right now, in Oldham almost 700 children are ‘living’ in emergency accommodation. Some of them have never known a home of their own, moving from temporary address to temporary address. That is heartbreaking.

On a recent visit to an affordable housing project in Hathershaw, I heard first-hand from a mum who had been living without a home for three years. She explained how her new home – a safe place to live – has completely changed her life and the future for her daughter. This is the difference fixing the housing crisis can make.

Last week, I met with colleagues, councillors, and officers to find new ways to tackle the problem.

We agreed to –

  • Prioritise access to housing support for all our residents.
  • Accelerate house building so Oldham’s residents have access to more homes.
  • Secure more temporary homes to meet the growing need for emergency accommodation.

There are still some frustrations.

While people in Oldham are without a home of their own, at the same time, there are 1,000 properties sat empty across the borough.

But we are looking at ways to get those empty homes occupied again.

We have tried to ‘encourage’ owners of empty homes to get them occupied by doubling, tripling and sometimes even quadrupling the council tax on a vacant property, but still too many remain empty.

We are now looking at using compulsory purchase powers to acquire long-term empty homes in Oldham and exploring how some of those properties could be transformed into dedicated temporary accommodation, to ensure we can meet the rising need.

Britain’s cost-of-living crisis has also further exacerbated the housing crisis in Oldham and across Greater Manchester.

Working families on low to middle incomes are struggling to afford their own home. Moving back-in with mum and dad is one of the only options for many, leading to overcrowding and other challenges – and for those in rental properties, rising evictions, rent arrears and the spectre of homelessness are very real.

More than 7,000 people are currently on Oldham’s housing register waiting for a social home, with more applying every week. Demand already far outstrips supply – simply put, there aren’t enough social and affordable homes to go round.

In February, we held a Housing Roundtable, bringing together builders, developers and partners from across the private and social housing sectors to agree how we can work together to get more homes built and, importantly, improve the standard of existing homes.

This was a really important event which put firm plans in place to find real solutions to the housing crisis. Following the roundtable, I was proud to announce 500 new social homes would be built in Oldham over the next five years, a great first step in the right direction.

We are also looking to address housing needs in other projects the Council is driving forward. Through our partnership with Muse to regenerate the town centre, 2,000 new homes will be built in the heart of Oldham – creating a brand-new neighbourhood and vastly increasing the number of modern, quality homes available in our borough.

‘Home is where the heart is’, they say. That is why we are tackling Oldham’s housing crisis to give our residents the homes and life opportunities they all deserve.

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