£10 Million for Housing Refugees
Havering Council has accepted a grant of £6.5m to purchase homes for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. This will be matched by £10m, provided by Havering Council, to ensure that up to 50 homes are made available.
The decision to accept the grant and spend the extra £10m was approved by the administration a month back. I felt it vital that we scrutinise the decision in more detail and so 'called it in'.
A 'call in' is a mechanism that allows Councillors to delay a decision that's been made, in order to question it. It is a vital tool for those of us who are not in the administration, as it allows us to properly scrutinise something that may have otherwise been waived through with little discussion.
Last night, 27th September 2023, Councillors scrutinised the refugee housing grant with an hour of questioning. Below is my summary of the programme.
My summary would be that I think that it is a smart idea for Havering to accept the grant, even though it means also putting in £10m of our own money. This is because, in short, it will mean us having 50 more homes that can be used for Havering residents in the future. Effectively, these homes will be at a discount.
Refugees in Havering.
The scheme can be used to house Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
At present, Havering has 17 Ukrainian families in temporary accommodation and hotels. Around 70 families are with 'host families' through the Government's Homes For Ukraine scheme. This scheme means that those who open their home to a family will receive a government allowance for providing for them.
The Homes For Ukraine scheme is a brilliant bit of thinking. If we remember that those fleeing Ukraine are women and young children, it's clear that a stable family home is the best place for them. Being around another family, from the UK, will help with integrating such as by making sure the kids have someone to play with.
It's not, however, a permanent solution and last night we were told that around 20 of those hosts have informed the council that they are considering ending their participation in the scheme. This means 20 families that could become homeless.
The council has a legal duty to support refugees in the Borough. They are able to present as homeless to our housing team and we must find them somewhere.
All of this means that if we decided to not take the grant, then we'd still be left with a huge cost to home these vulnerable families.
The cost & savings
"£10m of our own money" sounds a huge amount and, at a time of huge financial strain on the council, is going to leave a lot of people asking questions (some already are). Specifically people are asking "why not house our residents first".
I'll get onto that question shortly, but for now I'll address the cost and demonstrate that this likely will save us money in the long run.
Havering has a housing shortage and we have far too many families in B&Bs, hostels and hotels. This costs a vast amount of money.
The goal is that Havering council will purchase around 50 homes, an average of £320,000 a home (£200,000 of that from Havering council).
£200,000 divided over the 3 years of the tenancy is £66,666, roughly £5,555 a month. In November 2022 Havering Council was spending around £2500 a month to house someone in a hotel. So, at first glance, this scheme is twice as expensive as keeping the families in emergency hotel accommodation,
However, at the end of the 3 years in a hotel the Council has nothing to show for our money. It's gone straight to the hoteliers.
After 3 years of the new home, through this grant, Havering Council will be allowed to use those homes for Havering residents and the homes remain the property of the council. This means an effective discount of £120,000 a home (around 2 years of hotel costs).
That's a significant discount on a home and it will mean some real savings to the council in the long run as it will prevent the need for 50 families to be in hotels in the future.
In 6.5years, the scheme will have paid for itself simply in saved hotel accommodation costs.
What about Havering residents?
So this is the question on most people's lips, when I mention the scheme.
We've got a huge housing waiting list in Havering and a lot of development is on pause. It's right to be concerned about our own residents to. In fact, if we don't, then we risk stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment.
The good news is two-fold.
1) We wouldn't have had the ability to purchase these homes without the grant and they can be used for Havering families in the future.
2) The council has another programme in place that is purchasing homes for Havering families.
Ukrainian refugees, in particular, are keen to return home. The sooner Putin's war is over, the sooner these families can return to their communities and where they want to live. I've met a number of Ukrainian refugees, in Havering, and they all miss their homeland deeply.
The tenancy given here is for 3 years, after that the homes can be used for Havering families and that's going to be a huge boost to our housing supply. It means that up to 50 homes will become available. These will be good quality homes, mostly new and the grant encourages that. It's a shot in the arm for an otherwise struggling housing programme.
Remember, Havering council has a legal duty to look after these refugees. If we didn't take the grant and purchase the homes, then we'd be spending hundreds of thousands of £ and seeing nothing at the end of it.
Accepting the grant is a no-brainer and last night all the councillors at the meeting agreed.