Express & Star

Bosses told to ‘get a grip’ on housing crisis

Calls have been made for more social housing to be built in Walsall as waiting lists soar and rents are set to rise by more than seven per cent.

Walsall Housing Group's headquarters in Hatherton Street, Walsall. PIC: Google Street View

Councillor Pete Smith, independent member for Blakenall ward, said the borough was in the clutches of a housing crisis and called on the council to get a grip on the issue.

Figures showed Walsall Housing Group (whg), the borough’s biggest social landlord, has 18,500 people on its waiting list while the local authority has a further 6,000.

Councillor Smith said whg could only cater for seven out of 100 people in any year given the scarcity of housing.

And he said a rise of 7.7 per cent in rent, for people in whg homes, would hit those already struggling with increasing bills and result in more arrears.

Bosses at whg said they had not taken the decision to increase rents lightly and added they were doing all their can to try to meet the huge demand.

Councillor Smith said: “Some of these figures confirm that we have a housing crisis in Walsall.

“The mismatch between demand for whg homes and its available supply means that only seven out of every 100 applicants will be successful in any one year and that many may never be offered a home..

“I call on Walsall Council to consider getting back to building homes at affordable rents, like they did over 25/30 years ago and like many Councils still do today.

“When a cosy coalition of Tory Labour and Liberal Councillors in Walsall sold off its 30,000 housing stock to whg over 20 years ago, it effectively washed its hands of housing responsibility.

“Similarly central Governments, both Labour and Conservative have given housing a low priority.

“Now we are reaping the whirlwind and it’s time that Councils like Walsall got a grip on the housing crisis locally and time for Central Government to give housing the priority it requires.”

He added: “whg tenants, in the main are already feeling the pinch with high energy bills, a forthcoming five per cent increase in Council tax and now this to look forward to. I forecast that rent arrears will go through the roof.”

Fay Shanahan, Corporate Director of Operations and IT at whg, said: “We are deeply aware of the continued financial pressures facing our customers and the decision to increase our rents was not taken lightly.

“However, we rely on our rental income to cover the cost of maintaining and improving our homes and supporting our communities. Increasing costs mean we would be unable to do this without a rise in rent.

“We have a strong track record of supporting our customers and sustaining tenancies and have a range of dedicated teams on hand to offer support and guidance to anyone who is struggling.

“We would urge anyone worried about the impact of this rent change or who are struggling with the cost of living to talk to us, we are here to help.”

She added: “There is a huge demand for affordable homes for rent – this is not unique to us, securing good quality affordable accommodation is a national problem that needs considerable investment from government.

“The National Housing Federation has estimated that 90,000 social homes need to be built each year to keep up with housing demand and tackle the housing crisis.

“We are doing all we can to address the housing shortage locally and invested more than £270m in developing over 1,900 new homes in the West Midlands over the last five years.

“In 2023/2024 alone we anticipate to have delivered more than 500 new homes. However, demand continues to outstrip supply.

“We also have very few people who move out of their whg home, which means only a small number of properties become available each year.”

A Walsall Council spokesperson said: “Walsall Council transferred its housing stock across to whg (Walsall Housing Group) and WATMOS (Walsall Association of Tenant Management Organisations) as part of a Large Scale Voluntary Transfer in 2003 and as such the Council doesn’t directly deliver new homes.

“However, the council works closely with all housing associations, investors and developers to support the delivery of new homes across the borough.

“There are currently over 1,000 homes being delivered across a number of active sites, including Goscote Lane and Hollyhedge Lane.

“The council is actively working with developer partners such as Keepmoat to drive housing delivery through the Willenhall Framework plan. Housing is one of the priorities of the Walsall Borough Local Plan.”

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