The True Cost of Emergency Housing
Behind the large numbers around homelessness, we need to remember that each one of these statistics is human story of despair. I believe no one chooses to become homeless. However, costs are rising for both the expense of housing those in need and the pressure on frontline services are becoming unsustainable for local government.
According to Kent County Council’s research at the end of 2017, 1,153 households presented themselves to their local authority as homeless at the end of 2017; More than a third were recognised as priority cases.
It upsets me to think 1,182 families were living in emergency accommodation at Christmas 2017 and almost 74,000 in England as a whole. Local councils use a variety of solutions to accommodate those in need of emergency housing. In Kent, 23% are bed and breakfast, 29% in local authority or social housing homes and 40% housed through private landlords.
With rising rents and room rates, budgets for these accommodation types are being stretched beyond reasonable limits, with the Local Government Association estimating councils are paying £2 million daily to private landlords in England.
In the period 2011 - 2016 local authorities spent more than 3.5bn on temporary accommodation for homeless families. Within that period, costs rose by 43% with councils spending £851m on temporary accommodation in 2015 alone.
The Changing Face of Those in Need of Emergency Housing
The demographics of those coming to local authorities for assistance has dramatically over the last six years. Factors such as increasing rents which are pricing tenants out of the market should the property they reside in no longer be available combined with high deposit costs are introducing a new wave of families and individuals presenting as homeless.
This combined with Universal Credit complications causing tenants to fall into arrears, and pressures on those in receipt of housing benefit who are affected by the Bedroom Tax, plus an increasing population has fuelled the requirement for emergency housing.
And the true cost of this crisis goes further. Those who traditionally may have had access to temporary accommodation, but are ending up the streets due to the huge demand on services, such as single people with low priority cost government an average of £20,000 per annum, place increased demands not only on the local authority, but on services such as the NHS and police services due to the increased vulnerability of street sleepers.
Tackling the Costs of Emergency Housing
Action is being taken by local authorities to offer innovative solutions to the issues faced by a rising need for emergency housing. The most common approach by Kent local authorities is to build their own emergency accommodation on small plots of land that have little commercial value. For some time, Gen² have been using modern forms of construction for new schools, such as modular construction, where buildings are factory built and transported to site for assembly. We have successfully reduced programme time and the cost of construction.
We are now investing research to help local authorities build modular homes to address temporary housing needs. Being able to quickly produce accommodation without a lengthy construction period is of clear benefit for councils looking to source a permanent temporary home solution.
Indeed, over 100,000 modular homes are planned in the UK to help to tackle the housing crisis, with some organisations going further; Berkeley Homes are building their own dedicated modular homes factory in Kent for example.
In London, a collaboration of 16 councils are now looking to establish a company to produce modular housing which can then be moved across sites across the capital to address housing need. Kent local authorities have started to consider alternatives to traditional bed and breakfast accommodation or private landlords for those in need of emergency housing. Other ideas include converting old council offices, mobile homes and even disused warehouses – which offer families better personal facilities and more privacy than traditional temporary accommodation.
While no ‘quick fix’ will solve some of the drivers of homelessness, such as inflated rent prices and a population which is increasing, providers of housing can now look to new solutions to assist to alleviate costs and help more households.