Managing and adapting to the impact of Covid-19 have prompted a refocusing of Douglas Borough Council’s housing strategy, Housing Committee Chair Councillor Claire Wells (pictured) has said.
‘We’ve always put tenants’ need at the forefront of everything we do, but the events of the past 11 months or so have reinforced our abiding belief that delivering a housing service isn’t just about getting the rents in, or about bricks and mortar. It’s about people. It’s about communities. And it’s about providing a safe and secure home for people in housing need.
‘To this end our great team of housing officers have been building productive relationships with our tenants - including making regular welfare calls to the most vulnerable - and really connecting with them to better understand their needs then provide housing solutions that go far beyond just ticking all the right boxes.
‘Income from rents will always be vital so we can maintain and upgrade our stock of 2,369 properties. But establishing this model of mutual respect is beneficial in so many ways. Not only does it help to secure reliable income streams and bring down arrear levels, but that strength of connection with tenants is also providing us with invaluable customer feedback we can draw on to shape future housing strategy.
‘We’ve also been strengthening our links with third-party agencies, such as Housing Matters and Age Concern Isle of Man. This means that when we identify a housing need or crisis which requires specialist expertise, we can engage their services to stabilise and, hopefully, resolve the situation.’
Councillor Wells went on to say that the Council’s relationship with the Department of Infrastructure was ‘maturing’.
‘There’s an ambition to establish a shared endeavour approach to delivering better funded and resourced social housing,’ she said, adding: ‘We must have the support of government. The quality and quantity of our housing offering needs much improvement, as do the financial resources we need to deliver that improvement.’
Turning to the drive to achieve sustainable, low-energy building performance Councillor Wells said: ‘In this we need to work with government to set uncompromising standards. “Going green” comes at a cost. I firmly believe, though, that when it comes to building energy-efficient homes, sustainability and affordability are not mutually exclusive.’
She went on to cite the Council’s £12.8 million development of 66 apartments on Peel Road being built in partnership with the Department of Infrastructure and Dandara as ‘the future of quality energy-efficient social housing.’
She continued: ‘Delivering social housing isn’t just about building more houses. It’s about neighbourhood renewal and creating communities.’
She said the Council had received planning approval for a development of 48 two-bedroom apartments in Willaston. ‘There’s a long way to go but once completed, the apartments will free up some of our larger properties for families on our housing transfer and waiting list, allowing people who are moving out of their family homes the opportunity to stay in the neighbourhood and community that’s become home to them over the years. We’re also working on a strategy that adopts those same principles for when we redevelop the entire Spring Valley estate and create a family-friendly green environment, somewhere tenants will be proud to call “home”.
‘In all that we do our guiding mission is to deliver a caring social housing service. One that moves forward with the times and provides quality and affordable homes for people in housing need.’
The prospect of local government elections in May prompted Councillor Wells to close by saying: ‘I firmly believe that the legacy this housing committee leaves will be to have set the direction for delivering high-quality low-carbon affordable social housing that meets the Council’s aspirations, the demands of government and the expectations of our tenants.’