1. ITV Report

56,000 in region on waiting lists for social housing

The majority of what we used to call 'council houses' have now been handed over to social landlords. Photo: ITV News

More than 56,000 people or families are on waiting lists for social housing in the North East and North Yorkshire, according to new figures we have obtained.

This week, ITV News is taking a special look at housing issues in regions around the UK - as part of our 'Where's Home?' series.

As well as demands for more affordable properties to be built, there are concern around the quality of social properties here.

After the Grenfell Tower fire, the charity Shelter has launched a commission to look into whether many social tenants are being treated as "second-class citizens".

We submitted Freedom of Information requests to the local authorities in our region, and were told:

  • There are 224,788 social homes here
  • 6,614 new social homes have been built in the last five years
  • 56,399 households are currently on waiting lists for social housing here
  • There are 45,094 empty homes in our region, mostly privately-owned
James Cooley describes having to sleep on his uncle's sofa as 'disgusting.' Credit: ITV News

James Cooley is 43, and out of work. He has applied for social housing in Gateshead. He has been sleeping on his uncle's sofa since April, as he waits to see if he will be allocated a property.

He says: "I can't afford to rent privately. They're asking for bonds of £300 and £425 rent, I wouldn't be able to afford that."

Council houses have been offering reduced rents for more than a century, but housing stock has fallen by around a third since the 1980s after Margaret Thatcher's government gave tenants the 'Right to Buy' their homes at a discount.

Middlesbrough Council has recently decided to start building social homes again, for the first time in 30 years.

Cllr Lewis Young says: "there are areas in Middlesbrough - lots of brownfield sites - that could be used to develop affordable social housing. It's about putting people's needs of housing before the needs of profit."

Housebuilding has not kept pace with the demand for affordable properties. Credit: ITV News

Councils have handed over the majority of their social homes to not-for-profit housing associations over the last 30 years.

The North East's largest is Gentoo, in Sunderland. In 2016, more than 2,500 of its properties failed the Decent Homes Standard.

Dawn and Richard Holmes are both disabled, and rent a flat from Gentoo in Washington. They say a slow response when water came into a bedroom window this spring was an example of the landlord's lack of care. They now have problems with mould and damaged wallpaper, but say "Gentoo just will not spend the money" to make improvements.

Dawn Holmes says she doesn't feel there's 'any respect' from her social landlord. Credit: ITV News

Gentoo Group Executive Director Michelle Meldrum said: "I apologise if the standard of service has not exceeded their expectations. A building surveyor will be visiting Mr and Mrs Holmes to undertake a full assessment of their property."

"In 2016 the organisation proactively commissioned a 100% stock condition survey. The outcome was reported to the regulator and we developed a programme of works to return to 100% full compliance with the Decent Homes Standard by the end of July 2018. The work remains on track to achieve this target.”

There is a demand for thousands more affordable homes. Credit: ITV News

The government is due to publish a green paper, setting out its plans for the future of social housing, in the coming weeks.

Everyone deserves a safe and decent place to live and since 2010 we have delivered over 378,000 new affordable properties.

But we are ambitious to do much more and are reforming planning rules and investing £9bn to build the homes the country needs.

This includes £2bn to help councils and housing associations build social rent homes where they are most needed.

Since April 2010 the Decent Homes standard has been a regulatory requirement for social landlords, and our Social Housing Green Paper will set out a proposal to review the standard to make sure social homes are safe and decent.

– Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government