Innovative solutions to the UK’s housing crisis | Letters

Siân Berry on Green housing policy, Celia Thomas on accessible homes, John Marsh on building more almshouses, Iain Malcolm on the South Tyneside Housing Ventures Trust, and Sue Simmons on volunteering to help the homeless with Nightstop

Your report (One in eight people in poor or unaffordable housing, 23 September) makes clear just how many people are living without their basic right to a decent, secure home they can afford.

In London, Greens have helped expose the huge numbers affected by overcrowded conditions and cold, damp mouldy homes, as well as the fact that up to 13 times more people are hidden and homeless every night than are left on the streets. Homeless even if they have a basic roof over their heads, living with friends and family, sofa surfing with strangers or living in unsuitable temporary housing.

As a country we urgently need to put the human right to housing first. We need to mandate more social and low-rent homes in new developments, with this new stock of houses built using the latest energy efficiency technologies. And communities should have a stronger voice in local housing policy too.

Hard-fought new laws have already increased the rights of renters to get repairs so their homes are fit to live in, and we are soon set to see renters protected against unfair eviction under section 21 of the Housing Act. But the next domino to fall – the one that will finally put the right to a secure home into policy and stop landlords pricing out tenants when they can no longer evict them without reason – is controls on rents in existing homes. This is a Green policy that every area needs, not just London.

The free market has proved it is unable to meet this country’s housing needs. Only with public policy putting our housing needs as a bottom line will we stop denying millions of residents of this country this basic human right.
Siân Berry
Green party candidate for mayor of London

• Your article mentioned many older and disabled people struggling to move around their homes because they are unsuitable. Neither can many thousands get in and out of their homes without a lot of help, which leads to isolation and loneliness. There is a significant shortage of accessible homes in the UK, with most people not able to welcome wheelchair users into their homes due to poor access, according to this month’s YouGov poll commissioned by the housing association Habinteg.

The gains for improved accessibility are huge. Disabled people of working age living in suitable housing are four times more likely to be in work than those who have unmet housing needs, and accessible and adaptable homes also alleviate pressure on health and social care services by speeding up hospital discharges and enabling greater independence at home.

The government must now change national policy to ensure all new homes are built to accessible and adaptable standards. This was promised by Theresa May in July when a new consultation was announced. We now need the new prime minister to honour that pledge as a matter of urgency.
Celia Thomas
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

• I was disappointed to see no mention of almshouses in your Homes for Everyone supplement (25 September) about “the future of social housing”. The common perception of almshouses is that they are charming relics of a bygone age, but this is simply not accurate. They have many advantages over other forms of social housing.

They are “affordable” for ever, and those who live in them, if they are old people, have the right to remain there until they are no longer able to live alone for whatever reason. The almshouses schemes create communities, so the problems of loneliness are overcome. The properties are looked after by the charity that has to be in place for every alms housing scheme and they have a responsibility to keep an eye on the residents. All this means that the responsibilities of the local authority are much reduced. If built from scratch today they would be very energy-efficient which would be good news for the residents and for the world at large.

Building many more almshouses would be an enormous benefit to the country because the new homes would guarantee a stock of affordable housing for the foreseeable future, well-kept and sustainable.

And almshouses may be created for other categories of people in need of affordable housing such as key workers, disabled people and those saving to take a step on the housing ladder, and these uses have to be defined by the managing charity. So their provision would be a win-win solution all round.
John Marsh
Hildenborough, Kent

• In South Tyneside, we know that housing supply, choice and quality underpins economic prosperity and is fundamental to creating sustainable communities (Councils invest in quality design for future savings, Homes for Everyone supplement, 25 September). We are using innovative models to deliver housing that meets local need and aspirations and generates an income for the local authority.

South Tyneside Housing Ventures Trust (STHVT), established in 2013, is building affordable social housing for rent. The not-for-profit company has provided a vehicle to build new housing assets protected from right to buy and can access alternative sources of funding not available to the council.

With 435 homes now built or under construction, this has proved a very successful model. Almost a quarter of all affordable homes built in South Tyneside in the last five years have been delivered through STHVT. It has also brought more than 50 long-term empty homes back into use for affordable rent, with the rental income reinvested into other properties.

South Tyneside council has also established Centaurea Homes, to develop homes for private sale. Planning permission has just been granted for its first development of 62 homes. This will generate over £1m, which will be used to support vital local services. Alongside South Tyneside Homes, the council’s housing management company and STHVT, Centaurea will deliver new, high-quality homes to meet growing demand and create sustainable mixed-tenure neighbourhoods.
Cllr Iain Malcolm
Leader of South Tyneside council

• Daniel Lavelle describes a number of ways that people can volunteer to help those who are homeless (How can you best help rough sleepers?, G2, 25 September). We have been volunteer hosts for Nightstop for four years. It is a brilliant way to do something practical to counter the toxic effects of homelessness among young people. Although Lavelle writes that many hosts may have a social work or similar background, a lot of our fellow hosts simply bring their humanity and their wish to help by providing a comfortable bed and a decent evening meal. The young people who have stayed with us have been unfailingly polite and desperate to get their lives back on track, and we hope we have played a small part in helping in that process.

We would encourage any reader, of any background, to see if there is a Nightstop scheme in their area.
Sue Simmons
Bovey Tracey, Devon

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