Working hard to create more affordable rented housing

Homeless man sleeping in sleeping bag on cardboard

It’s tough being homeless at any time of the year but especially during winter and at Christmas - Credit: Getty Images

It’s tough being homeless at any time of the year but especially during winter and at Christmas.

Surviving in a tent, or car, or a shop doorway (the most visible type of homelessness) is beyond imagining for those of us who have always had a proper roof over our heads.

One of my first protests for social justice when I was a Young Liberal was a sleep-out under cardboard at Union Square in 1989. It was my choice and at any time I could have gone home.

As Liberal Democrat leader of Torbay Council, I have been keen to minimise rough sleeping but also reduce the number of people who have to go into temporary accommodation because we have limited social housing to offer.

This is particularly hard on young families who have to sleep in just one or two rooms.

Over the decades Torbay has not prioritised the building of affordable rented housing and we have ended up with the lowest percentage of social housing in the West Country.

But progress is being made.

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We have the wonderful Leonard Stocks Centre in Factory Row which has 30 beds for the most vulnerable and hard to place.

We have a Housing First team which helps provide intensive support  to resettle people fin to long-term lets.

They can also settle people straight into housing from the street if that is best for them.

We estimate about 17 people are currently rough sleeping and when we activated our emergency weather protocol, we managed to get 16 people inside.

The outreach team are engaging with all these individual and have been fully operational throughout all of Covid-19.

We are helped in Torbay by some marvellous voluntary groups like PATH, Friends of Factory Row, Thrive and the Living Room at St Mary Mags church.

Last winter, the TOWNS project offered emergency accommodation in church halls and this year continue to provide support through other means in providing food and we also had the long-serving Haven in Paignton.

It’s not just the practical help which these organisation provide, but the smiles, goodwill and emotional support to people living on the edges of our community.

Those who get involved through these projects tell me how their understanding of homelessness changes. It’s complex  and often there are no easy answers.

The council activates a severe weather emergency protocol when the temperature is forecast to dip very low.  Anyone sleeping on the streets can have a warm space to go.

If you are worried about someone sleeping rough at any time, call 01803 217890 to connect them with local support services.


The number of people in temporary housing, which is often completely inappropriate, remains too high.

On latest figures there were 184 household in including 30 families. To put this in context pre-Covid, 100 households was seen as high demand.

But at the peak in August we had 249 household in accommodation.

My thanks to our Housing Options team that has  been working tirelessly to resettle households during the summer, even when we were in lockdown.

The private rented sector remains difficult because so many families are chasing too few properties.

Many landlords are asking for guarantors for properties.

We are working hard to create more affordable rented housing.

By March we hope to have on stream 15 units of accommodation through TorVista for  hard to place tenants.

Torbay Weekly readers can also play their part. If you have an empty property please contact Housing Options team by emailing or call 01803 208747 or 07909 937 582.

We all know how quickly personal finances can go awry, especially after a year of uncertainly. Many have lost jobs or are on reduced working hours.

If you are worried that you won’t be able to pay your rent or mortgage, or have found yourself living with family or friends, there is help available. Whatever is happening, the sooner you ask for help the better.

Torbay Council’s website has lots of information that can support you

I hope and pray this Christmas will bring relief for all those worried about either losing housing or finding some. It is a fundamental right and a top priority for me and the team I lead.