Homes waiting list hits 75,000

Nearly 75,000 people in Norfolk are waiting to rent a home they can afford - and the outlook is likely to worsen as the credit crunch and economic slowdown bite.

Nearly 75,000 people in Norfolk are waiting to rent a home they can afford - and the outlook is likely to worsen as the credit crunch and economic slowdown bite.

A report by the local government association (LGA) warned that there will be two million households, or five million people, on the waiting lists for houses provided by the local council or housing associations by 2010.

Government figures for 2007 show Norfolk is second only to Essex for the numbers of households on council waiting lists - at 29,802 up from 21,002 in 2004 and 10,368 in 1997.

In Suffolk the figure is 17,145 while it is 15,464 in Cambridgeshire.

Yet the number of people affected is likely to be more than double the official household figures which do not take into account children and other dependents.

The new figures emerged amid growing fears that housing developers are beginning to mothball schemes until the economy picks up.

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According to the 2007 figures the worst waiting list hotspots in Norfolk are Yarmouth 5,915, King's Lynn 5,608 and Norwich 5,256.

David Harwood, portfolio holder for community at King's Lynn and West Norfolk borough council, said councils had been blighted by government policies forbidding them to build new homes themselves and there had been a noticeable drying-up of house building schemes in the district since the turn of the year.

The downturn in the economy could force the government to rethink policies of encouraging councils to strike planning deals with developers, known as section 106 agreements, to supply low cost homes, he said.

“The problem now is the credit crunch is coming in and all the developers are stopping building, which means the properties coming in under the agreements for affordable housing are drying up rapidly,” he said. “That's going to cause problems for the government because they are relying on that to provide most of the homes.”

Clive Stockton, portfolio holder for strategic housing at North Norfolk district council, said the authority was hoping that 45pc of all new homes would be affordable under its revised local development framework, which was likely to be approved by inspectors next week.

“We have a major problem and it's getting worse,” he said. “We are doing everything we possibly can. We have a target and are pushing hard for it, but obviously it's got to make economic sense and you can't impose it if a developer can't afford it.”

Ironically, building rates for affordable homes in Norfolk have been on the rise since 2001/2 from 6pc to 17pc - yet the 633 new low cost homes built last year is still well short of the numbers needed.

The LGA report by council leaders warns that combination of economic factors are creating unprecedented demand for council and housing association homes, which councils are struggling to meet.

The last decade has seen wages rise by 35pc while house prices have shot up 156pc - pushing a home beyond the reach of many.

The credit crunch is also making it difficult for first time buyers to get on the property ladder and has seen housing associations struggle to secure loans to build new low cost homes.

Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board said: “Now that the credit crunch is upon the country it appears that many thousands more people will be looking to councils to provide them with a permanent home as they either find it impossible to get on the housing ladder or see their home repossessed.

“With the banks overstretching their credit facilities it could well mean that in the coming months that councils will have to help pick up the pieces as people end up on social housing waiting lists.

“Even when the economic good times were rolling, councils saw ever increased pressure on their social housing stock,” he added. “The slowdown in private sector house building will eventually affect that amount of affordable housing that is being built. This will mean fewer new social homes at a time when there will be more demand for them.”

Housing Minister Caroline Flint said: “The demand for more housing, including social homes isn't new. We welcome the LGA's backing for government investment to provide 70,000 affordable homes a year by 2011, including 45,000 social homes for rent. I hope they will be instrumental in persuading their member local authorities to support plans for increased housing supply to meet the needs of local families on housing waiting lists.”