Winchester City Council Wins National Housing Award

Winchester City Council has scooped a national award for its innovative and proactive approach towards preventing homelessness in the Winchester district.

The ARCH award was presented at the ARCH resident and tenant conference in Nottingham on March 15.

ARCH, the Association of Retained Council Housing, represents the 95 local authorities in the country who have retained their housing stock, and their national conference was attended by staff, tenants and elected members from across the UK.

Winchester City Council's Head of Housing Landlord Services Richard Botham was thrilled to receive the recognition.

He said: "A great deal of work has gone into increasing provision for homeless people and the prevention of homelessness in the district over the last five years and this award gives excellent recognition for the many innovative ways in which the Council has used its housing stock to support this work."

Homeless applications locally had been increasing by over 30 per cent a year and urgent action was needed to meet demand. Many efforts had been made before to keep families out of Bed & Breakfast and further initiatives were developed.

One of the most successful made use of difficult-to-let flats in sheltered schemes. The Council found itself with long-term vacant properties in sheltered flats, and consulted tenants in selected schemes on the way forward.  This led in many schemes to the lowering of age limits to 40 year olds.

One particularly innovative approach was taken at two sheltered schemes where properties were made available to families with a young child. This initiative received the tentative backing of the existing tenants and has proved a great success. A number of babies have been born on former sheltered schemes to the delight of the City's older tenants and these new mixed communities have brought new life to schemes and provide good quality temporary accommodation to single people and families in housing need. 

In the meantime, over half a million pounds has been spent on Winchester's City centre hostel, in Sussex Street, creating purpose-built living accommodation for families and young people.  The hostel comprises two semi-detached properties, one with six self-contained one-bedroom flats for vulnerable young people, with ancillary accommodation and a communal garden, which is now managed by a partner agent through Hampshire County Council's Supporting People programme.  The other provides seven bedsitting rooms and three two-room family units.

A recent Audit Commission inspection has already recognised the Council's achievements in meeting the Government target of ending the use of Bed & Breakfast and for achieving a 25 per cent increase, from three years ago, in the number of cases of homelessness prevented.

However, as the supply of affordable housing lags way behind predicted need, the City Council will continue its search for innovative solutions.