FIFTY brand new houses built for homeless families are standing empty all over the city because councillors are politically quibbling about what rents should be charged, the Citizen can reveal.
One developer has already been refused planning permission to use its homes for social housing while another leading local housing association has given up completely – and is building in Manchester instead.
Meanwhile, as numbers of would-be tenants in “unsuitable” bed and breakfast accommodation continue to soar, other councils as far away as Westminster and Luton are renting city properties from private landlords and putting their own homeless people in them.
“It’s a mess,” admitted the Conservative’s Peter Geary, the Cabinet member responsible for housing.
He said the council was struggling with a political impasse over how much rent homeless people should pay.
The Tories, true to the government’s most recent ‘affordable rent’ policy, believe social housing tenants should pay up to 80 per cent of the normal rental value.
But Labour and Lib Dems say this is too high and are refusing to drop the previous ‘social rent’ ruling, which was 50 per cent of the market rate.
Because the council is hung, with no one party having control, no policy can be agreed.
In July Charles Church plc asked the Development Control Committee to agree that 20 new homes to the north of Childs Way be adopted immediately for affordable rent, with 22 more to follow shortly afterwards.
But the committee, chaired by Labour’s Brian White, refused and the houses are still empty.
Said Councillor Geary: “They are ready to move into tomorrow.
“They would be perfect for people we are currently putting up in unsuitable bed and breakfast places.”
He and his Tory colleagues have now vowed to “force the issue through” at the next Cabinet meeting.
But they fully expect the other two parties to recall it and ask for a lengthy scrutiny process.
Brian White said: “”We will not agree to affordable rent, which would work out at £155 a week for a three bedroom house instead of the equivalent social rent of £80.
The only people to profit out of this would be the landlords.”
Housing benefit would pay the full amount for unemployed tenants, but this would be a major strain on the system, he said.
Said Mr Geary: “I just urge everybody to see sense, stop making political points and help house our homeless people.”