To consider the attached report.
The Service Manager (Housing Needs and Older People’s Services), J Gould, reported that this review provided a progress report on the Council’s sheltered housing. Ark had been commissioned to undertake a review of the Council’s 12 sheltered housing schemes. As life expectancy increased, the demographic of an ageing population changed in relation to the needs for health, social care and housing. By building a comprehensive picture of performance and sustainability, as well as taking into consideration the likely future demand for accommodation, the review achieved a clear direction for accommodation to make best use of the stock to meet residents’ needs.
Ratings of the 12 schemes had resulted in:
· green: 6 – for recommendations to continue use but explore minor remodelling to make better use of guest rooms, second lounges and disused warden accommodation;
· amber: 4 – for recommendations to continue use as sheltered accommodation but try to improve quality, desirability and overall performance; and
· amber/red: 2 – for recommendations to continue use as sheltered accommodation in the short term but with more targeted improvements to better meet the needs of the District’s ageing population.
Councillor R Bassett commented that the Council had 463 sheltered housing accommodation units but with the requirement to keep older people in their own homes, how many did the Council need to keep up with demand? The Service Manager replied that the District’s population of over 65s was expected to increase by 3% in the next decade to around 30,000 (22.5% of the District’s total population) and worked with Essex County Council (ECC) to help people to live independently. Much of the stock was pre-1970 so improvements were required as the residents’ needs changed, but great strides were being achieved for older people within the Housing and Property Directorate.
Councillor R Brookes commented that there was a demand for 2-bed accommodation for older people, if couples did not sleep together or as in one case for two sisters, or sometimes for a carer to stay the night, and was surprised this had not come up in the survey. There was also a tremendous demand for housing for the under 35s. The Service Manager replied that there was a need for 2-beds. Housing officers were getting to know current tenants better. Officers were incentivising tenants under occupying properties to move to more appropriate accommodation. The remodelling of some stock with retractable partitions in larger bedrooms would help focus on the needs of the residents. There were increasing amounts of young homeless people who were placed in bedsits. However, by having creative housing solutions for younger people, this would keep the flow going and help maximise stock.
Councillor J Jennings commented that mixed aged groups could be mutually beneficial. How many sheltered housing units were empty, and how many did not have good broadband? The Service Manager replied that she did not have the figure to hand and there were voids in the housing stock, but the coronavirus had resulted in more of this age group shielding. Housing was focussing on more connectivity as a result of the Covid-19 crisis where people were having to work remotely, and Housing was trying to get communal broadband into the housing schemes as they did not have Wi-fi but was not aware of any specific issues.
Councillor J McIvor commented on the good report and that in the affordability section the Council should be proud of being significantly below the benchmark of 35% affordability. The Councillor commented that under resident profile, 9% of older residents were in full or part-time employment. Was there any scope to encourage residents to move to perhaps be nearer their work, or be less isolated, or be with people of a similar age and the benefits of this? Were the two connected and could this help free up stock that could perhaps be put to better use? The Service Manager replied that once Housing officers knew the number of people under occupying this would help. It was not specific to older people but anyone under occupying. A range of opportunities could be offered to residents and work was underway this year on better use of Housing stock and greater creativity would help.
Councillor S Murray asked if the Council still had financial incentives on people downsizing, and the funding of an officer to help elderly people through the moving experience? The Service Manager replied yes, the Council did have an incentive programme around downsizing and there was a dedicated officer in the Older People’s Housing Team to help support residents moving.
Councillor H Whitbread (Portfolio Holder Housing and Communities) said this was a really important piece of work and both Service Managers, J Gould and D Fenton, had a 21st century approach to housing.
Councillor J H Whitehouse asked if access to the Housing Allocation Officer was just for housing tenants? The Service Manager replied the officer based in the Older People’s Housing Team would support and advise anyone applying for or moving into older people’s accommodation. Councillor J H Whitehouse remarked that sheltered housing helped to prevent and/or delay older people moving into residential care and many might have carers coming in several times a day. When she had been a County Councillor there was a place in Brentwood that had combined all the residents care services and provided 2 or 3 full time carers on-site all the time. It had also been flexible if residents returned from hospital. Now there were a lot of independent care agencies, but this had provided a much better standard of care. The Service Manager replied that local based care could be tailored to residents’ needs. Social care came under the provision of ECC, but she would contact ECC and see what scope there was on this.
(1) That the key findings from the Sheltered Housing Review summarised in this report be noted;
(2) That the five recommendations below arising from the review be approved:
(i) To take forward proposals for remodelling and redevelopment;
(ii) To work with residents (including prospective residents) to develop forward looking and sustainable standards that improve the quality, suitability and desirability of schemes;
(iii) To improve the approach to asset management;
(iv) To improve demand for sheltered housing;
(v) To improve the financial performance of schemes;
(3) That detailed feasibility studies on any schemes receiving a red rating through the process of review be agreed to be undertaken; and
(4) That the proposal of any resulting projects plan with timescales and resident consultation programmes be brought back to committee for agreement prior to commencement be approved.