Good and bad news from Bay’s housing market

Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council

Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council - Credit: Torbay Liberal Democrats

Good news in Torbay – the housing market is booming. Bad news in Torbay - the housing market is booming.  Great news for property owners, not great for the large number of families who rent their homes and can’t afford to buy. 
Remote working has become more acceptable. More homeowners are choosing to live away from cities rather than face the daily office commute. Combined with the stamp duty holiday, this has helped push up house prices in attractive places like Devon. 
The surge in demand is having a big impact on people who rent properties here – that’s more than a quarter of the housing market in Torbay. Yes, one in every four homes in the Bay is rented, yet social housing is incredibly scarce. That’s where the private sector has come in. 
As house prices boom, rents are also increasing with the average three-bed rental now costing in excess of £1,000 per month. For those on low incomes that is just not manageable. 
Since the late 1970s, the taxpayer has been subsidising more expensive rents paid to private landlords. When governments now say they are spending more and more on housing costs it is because the larger part of the subsidy is going to private landlords and less and less to benefit families inadequately or inappropriately housed. 
It was once a simple case of supply and demand, but has become more complicated. When house prices rise, households in rented property stay put, unable to afford to buy. That, in turn, increases demand for rented property only private landlords are largely able to supply, at a greater cost to the rest of us. Now, though, there’s a new challenge. 
Some landlords are leaving the rental market, selling up as prices rise, while others switch to Airbnb for higher rents from short-term lets. This is creating a perfect storm for local families. 
With up to 50 people currently applying for each private-rented property coming on the market in Torbay, competition is fierce. Every applicant is a person needing to be housed for a multitude of reasons. 
Torbay Council has also seen increased numbers of housing applications from families. As I write, there are 149 households in temporary accommodation overnight, 49 of them families with children.  
We sometimes have to house people in an emergency miles from the Bay. This is unacceptable, and with the right finance from central government and fair housing policies locally, need not happen. 
The beauty of the Bay conceals a dire situation for many struggling to keep a roof over their heads. That’s why the Liberal Democrat- Independent partnership is committed to delivering a proper housing strategy 
We are working closely with landlords and potential providers of temporary accommodation to understand their experiences and see how they can help. It is a new and long overdue direction. 
Our new housing company, TorVista Homes, will deliver 350 new homes in the Bay over the next 4-5 years and plans are progressing to deliver more properties at Tweenaway Cross and in Brixham. 
350 homes over 5 years only replaces one in ten of the council- owned homes in Torbay lost under right to buy. The irony of that policy is that many of those former council homes are now owned by private landlords charging rents significantly higher than identical properties managed by a not-for-profit housing association. 
The links between sub-standard and inappropriate housing and poor educational attainment, health and wellbeing are well documented, as are the benefits of secure tenancy social housing helping people to access employment and build stable, safe communities with better access to support systems when facing particular difficulties.   
With more than 1,400 households on the Housing Register seeking affordable housing, we are long, long way from solving this problem, but we are least going to try. We want to ensure that all our residents are active, healthy, safe, resilient and self-sufficient with good quality affordable homes.