East Devon affordable housing taskforce to tackle crisis as ‘grim Christmas’ is predicted

An affordable housing taskforce is to be created to combat a crisis affecting thousands of people in East Devon – with a ‘grim Christmas’ and rising homelessness predicted.

The team of newly-hired staff is expected to cost around £500,000 over two years – with the cash coming from a district council underspend this financial year, writes Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives.

It comes after a report by Devon Home Choice highlighted that more than 2,650 households are in ‘housing need’ in East Devon – the third-highest number in the county.

I believe it’s going to be a pretty grim Christmas and we’re going to see an increase in homelessness and people on the streets…

A report council officers to the authority’s cabinet said: “The need for more affordable housing is highly evident, with demand outstripping supply and has resulted in an increase in the housing register and homelessness.”

Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh representative Councillor Steve Gazzard told the meeting: “It is imperative that we do something…There is a crisis in housing.

“There’s not a day goes by that, as a councillor, I don’t have people contacting me saying, ‘I’m at my wit’s end. I’m pulling my hair out. I see somewhere advertised and by the time the morning comes and I pick the phone up it’s gone’. That’s happening every day.”

The report said that the council should continue to look at ways of delivering affordable homes, including working with housing associations, supporting community land trusts and seeking opportunities to build new dwellings.

Short-term ‘quick wins’ of by buying available properties should also be considered, said officers.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) says it provides 200 to 300 new affordable homes per year – but this isn’t enough.

It is also thought the Government’s Right to Buy policy is undermining efforts to provide social housing, with EDDC is forced to sell around 30 properties each year.

Seaton councillor Jack Rowland said he expected East Devon’s housing crisis to get worse before it gets better – citing the end of the eviction ban and the furlough scheme.

Exmouth Town ward member Cllr Eileen Wragg added: “I believe we are facing an extremely harsh winter.

“Far from it being a better Christmas than last year, as the Prime Minister has said, I believe it’s going to be a pretty grim Christmas and we’re going to see an increase in homelessness and people on the streets.”

Cabinet members unanimously backed the creation of the affordable housing taskforce, which will now need to be rubber-stamped by full council.

EDDC last month agreed to hire two extra housing officers to help to manage soaring levels of homelessness in the district.

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