The council plan, which is at the consultation stage, includes commitments to take effective action to tackle poor housing conditions and anti-social behaviour in the private sector as well as a focus on adopting a multi-agency approach in, for instance, the Oxford Street neighbourhood.
- Issues in the private rented sector are part of a complex and challenging set of problems linked to deprived inner-city neighbourhoods.
- Importance of having an up-to-date and frequently reviewed set of strategies.
- Impact of a lack of resources (eg long-term funding) on the ability to deliver neighbourhood renewal and a better quality private rented sector.
- Use of a social lettings agency in addressing landlord and tenant requirements.
- In-depth assessment of initiatives to ensure that they tackle issues, meet objectives and achieve value for money.
Hartlepool faces major challenges of tackling long-term economic decline and meeting the needs of a highly vulnerable population. It is the eighteenth most deprived area in England. Median house prices are low at £123,000. Approximately 4.6 per cent of the stock is empty. The closure of the national housing market renewal programme in 2010/11 resulted in neighbourhood renewal progressing much more slowly than had been hoped even with transition funding. In 2020, one outstanding scheme remains to be completed.
Nevertheless, population growth has been significantly higher than other councils on Teesside. New housebuilding, predominantly on greenfield sites, has averaged 326 properties per year since 2015.
The local plan, which was adopted in 2018, highlights the importance of tackling the imbalance between housing supply and demand that is contributing to a ‘donut effect’ ie a weak inner city housing market and a buoyant demand for new properties on the edge of the built-up area.
Nearly 16 per cent of the stock is in the private rented sector and over 50 per cent of this is in three central wards. Much of the stock is small terraced properties built before 1919. There is a high turnover or churn with 45 per cent of households living in a property for less than two years.
There are significant issues over building condition and thermal efficiency. However, these are part of a wider set of problems in inner city neighbourhoods. In the Oxford Street neighbourhood, for example, the median house price is only £26,000 and nearly one in five properties are void. There are significant issues of fly-tipping on vacant sites as well as high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. Properties have been bought up by landlords that do not understand the dynamics of the local housing market. The council is often subsequently approached by these new owners for help to provide tenants and/or to purchase properties.
The strategic policy framework has recently been updated. The council plan, which is at the consultation stage, includes commitments to take effective action to tackle poor housing conditions and anti-social behaviour in the private sector as well as a focus on adopting a multi-agency approach in, for instance, the Oxford Street neighbourhood.
The housing strategy that was adopted in late 2019 has as one its themes, ‘maximising the best use of existing homes, regeneration and improving communities’. There are three policy areas – (i) improving housing standards, quality and choice (ii) supporting regeneration activity in areas identified as in need of investment and (iii) managing the impact of long-term empty properties.
A feasibility study was commissioned in 2019 for the Oxford Street neighbourhood and a consultation process is underway with the community focussing on addressing crime, anti-social behaviour and boarded up properties. It is intended to draw up and deliver a multi-disciplinary action plan.
Although student housing is not an issue, the growth of the Hartlepool campus of the Northern School of Art has prompted the local authority to commission a study on future accommodation requirements.
Overall, limited resources over the last decade has presented huge challenges in implementing policies on neighbourhood renewal, including the private rented sector. For example, the last house condition survey was undertaken in 2009.
Working with landlords and tenants
The council’s approach is based on the principle that the responsibility for managing and maintaining a property in the private rented sector rests with the landlord, but that assistance is sometimes required.
The council has not been able to make as much progress on this in recent years because of resource issues. For example, training sessions have been delivered to landlords, but not on the scale originally envisaged. Similarly, the local authority participates in the Tees Valley Landlords Forum, but this has not been as proactive and as useful as had been hoped.
Nevertheless, the council operates a Social Lettings Agency (SLA) which provides similar services to a commercial letting and managing agent. It was set up in 2016 as the Quality Homes Lettings Agency. It works with landlords and tenants to help establish and sustain tenancies. It aims to provide high quality and affordable housing management services and access to a range of in-house skills and expertise, such as 24/7 emergency hotline and free rental valuations.
The council requires good housing standards, reasonable rent levels and effective tenancy agreements. It targets three categories of potential tenants - those facing homelessness, those unable to afford homeownership and those who find it difficult to secure a tenancy in the traditional private rented sector.
The council recognises that intervention is required where landlords and their lettings agents refuse or are unable to undertake necessary repairs or modernisation work as well as managing stock and tenancies in a satisfactory manner. Again, resource constraints are significant – for instance, there is currently no policy on making use of civil penalties. Nevertheless, there is a focus initially on informal enforcement action followed by formal action (if the required improvements are not undertaken within, say, six months).
A second selective licensing scheme is nearing the end of its five-year period of operation. It covers 13 streets in the inner area. An assessment of its effectiveness is underway. Emerging points include:
- importance of working closely with the community safety partnership to address crime and anti-social behaviour, which was the most significant issue
- adequate resources to adopt a proactive approach to improve property maintenance issues in the private rented sector
- greater focus on energy efficiency and thermal comfort to address fuel poverty.