Wrexham Council’s Lead Member for Housing has defended the loss of rents by having several hundred empty ‘void’ properties by pointing out they are being refurbished to higher standards, which takes time.
A meeting was told yesterday that the number of empty council houses in Wrexham is in part due to a backlog created with efforts to carry out more extensive repairs, with the figure standing at 471 ‘void’ properties.
Cllr Gwenfair Jones raised the point during a members question section of the monthly Executive Board, as well as asking for specific data on turn around times of such properties in her ward and around Wrexham as a whole.
Void properties are being brought up to the full Welsh Housing Quality Standard before they could be let out to new council tenants. The work can include installing new kitchens, bathrooms, electrical rewires and any other internal improvement work, if required, or external work. The meeting was also told that a ‘Wrexham Standard’ goes above and beyond the Welsh Housing Quality Standard with the council demanding higher specifications, however capacity issues means sometimes work is slow getting done.
The 471 empty council houses represent 4.2% of the 11,057 houses that make up the full council stock of housing, with the meeting told every week 15 houses are handed back to the council, and 15 completed houses are passed to local estate offices.
In Cllr Jones’ ward the average void time was 159 days, slightly higher than the 142 average for Wrexham as a whole. Cllr Griffiths, Wrexham Council’s Lead Member for Place – Housing, defended the figures noting that a single house having work done on it could have a problem and therefore figures get skewed upwards.
The number of empty houses also affects the rent collected by Wrexham Council, with £2.3 million cited as the lost rent figure, which makes up 4.4% of all housing rents collected.
Cllr Griffiths said he did not agree with that being branded as an ‘inefficiency’ by Cllr Jones, and essentially said it was the direct consequence on how the projects were being managed to ‘overcome decades of underinvestment’, adding “The rent loss is not really a rent loss at all as it is reinvested in the housing system, so rent not received, is rent not spent”.
Taking onboard comments Cllr Griffiths said the council’s in-house team would be expanded and more contractor capacity sought to ‘address the issue’ however added that loss of rent ‘is not the problem it is perceived to be’ due to a 30 year view being taken in the business plan for housing. The logic being that the shortfalls were built into the plan under the assumed incomes, and therefore did not create a problem. What would happen if there were less voids and therefore more rents was not addressed.
Cllr Griffiths added, “In my opinion, this is the right course of action and I believe we are doing the right thing to give our tenants the best possible homes, and I do not make any apologies for that. I will continue to work with the chief officer to see how we can bring more capacity to address the backlog of empty properties, and I know the department is working at ways to reduce the time taken to refurbish each property.”
The debate the Executive Board also joined up with two related reports on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) (reports are here and here), and a common theme whenever we run stories on such housing revenue account investments is readers contrasting it to the council’s overall budget woes and cutbacks, or private renters and landlords unhappy that council tenants have had work carried out. The HRA budget is ringfenced for the housing, and is not part of the council’s general revenue budget or their capital budget.
For 2020/21 a Welsh Housing Quality Standard investment programme of £45.7 million is planned, with a “Build and Buy” programme of £4.7 million and a stock remodelling programme of £1.5 million (total £51.9 million) is proposed. For the following years 2021/22 to 2024/25 a further £152.6 million Welsh Housing Quality Standard investment along with a further £9 million ‘Build and Buy’ Programme and a £15.8 million stock remodelling programme (total £177.4 million)
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