Boom has fuelled homelessness

THE housing boom of the last few years has played a major part in an increase in homelessness in South Suffolk.The number of homeless people in Babergh district has risen by 32% in the last three years and by far the biggest cause of homelessness has been landlords getting out of the rented market and selling their properties to take advantage of the boom.

THE housing boom of the last few years has played a major part in an increase in homelessness in South Suffolk.

The number of homeless people in Babergh district has risen by 32% in the last three years and by far the biggest cause of homelessness has been landlords getting out of the rented market and selling their properties to take advantage of the boom.

The total numbers of people presenting themselves to the council as homeless has risen from 212 in 1999 to 282 by March 2003.

But Babergh senior environmental health officer Sue Herne said: "There are hidden things behind this. Some landlords are taking the money, but also others have tenants who complain to us that their properties are below standard.

"Sometimes we will drop a letter to the landlord to say work needs doing and they will then sell the property rather than do the repairs. At the end of the day rent is not just to put in their pockets, it's to maintain the property."

However, she said, once a tenant leaves, the council cannot continue with enforcement action: "If we are taking enforcement action and the landlord gets rid of the tenant that's a lot of money wasted."

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Given the shortage of property for rent in both public and private sectors and the high house prices in Babergh, she said, many tenants would suffer sub-standard accommodation and not report it for fear of losing the roof over their heads, or of their rent being increased if the work was done.

Two reports going to Babergh's strategy committee on Thursday will highlight the problem and present some possible solutions to encourage landlords to stay in the rental sector and to renovate currently empty property.

Ms Herne said the council's investigations had found that there were currently 1,000 empty properties in Babergh, not including second homes.

The council has re-launched its forum for private landlords in a bid to encourage more co-operation.

It is also proposing a scheme of grants and loans to try to encourage owners of empty property to renovate them and make them available for rent.

The new scheme would offer 50% of eligible expenses up to a maximum of £10,000 for work to bring houses in multiple occupation up to standard or to bring in new accommodation for rent.

It also proposes 50% of eligible expenses up to a maximum of £5,000 to improve heating and energy efficiency.

In both cases the money would have to be repaid if the property was sold within five years or if the landlord did not stick to rent restrictions. It would not have to be repaid after 10 years.

Ms Herne said: "It's a difficult situation for a local authority to make an impact on. If we can get enough landlords to join the forum, experience in other areas has shown that they will actually start to volunteer information about landlords who are not so good."

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