A new type of shared ownership home for Jessica and Aidan

Written on . Posted in Housing, Media, Private housing, Residents, Your home

An innovative scheme called ‘Open Market Shared Ownership’ was launched last year by Epping Forest District Council, in partnership with Broxbourne Housing Association (BHA) and the first successful applicants have just received the keys to their new home in Upshire Road, Waltham Abbey.

BHA purchased the property under the scheme, which was chosen by the applicants Jessica Beadle and Aidan Langley themselves and entered into a shared ownership arrangement with them. This has given Jessica and Aidan a 50% share in the home they chose and they pay a subsidised, affordable rent on the remaining 50% share of the property. Overall, the monthly cost of them part-owning their own home is almost a third less than if they had to obtain a mortgage to buy the whole property.

The scheme aims to give more local residents the opportunity to get a foot on the home ownership ladder – by offering an alternative to other types of shared ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘part buy, part rent’), at a lower cost. Under the scheme applicants have been able to select any 1 or 2 bedroom property available for sale on the open market in Essex, Hertfordshire, or Epping Forest’s neighbouring London boroughs. They can choose a property with a value up to £210,000.

“Shared ownership schemes are not new,” says Councillor Maggie McEwen, Housing Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council. “The difference with this scheme is that local people can buy a home of their choice on the open market, instead of purchasing a shared ownership home on a specific new development. The scheme is open to our Council tenants and applicants on our Housing Register who live in the district.”

To qualify for the scheme, applicants only need to have a total household income of between £25,000 and £60,000 per annum. Once they have purchased their 50% share in the property, the residents pay a rent to BHA for the remaining share owned by BHA – which is only around £190 per month. Another benefit is that less deposit is required to secure the required mortgage.

For example, a property bought for £180,000 would usually require a deposit of £18,000. However, under the scheme, only £9,000 is required. Also, instead of having to pay a mortgage of around £1,100 each month, applicants only have to pay around £800 each month for the combined mortgage and rent – a saving of around £300 each month! Further shares can be purchased in stages and eventually the resident can own their home outright.

Councillor Maggie McEwen said: “When we speak to applicants, their first question is usually ‘Where’s the catch?’ – but there isn’t one! The costs to applicants are much lower because the council provides an interest-free loan to BHA.”

Broxbourne Housing Association (BHA) is a not-for-profit organisation that manages 4,000 properties in the neighbouring Borough of Broxbourne, following a housing stock transfer from Broxbourne Borough Council. BHA manage the Open Market Shared Ownership (OMSO) Scheme.

“Broxbourne Housing Association is delighted to be working with Epping Forest District Council on this exciting new initiative. We have a strong track record of providing affordable home ownership services and look forward to a successful partnership providing much-needed affordable homes,” says John Giesen, Chief Executive of Broxbourne Housing Association.

More money is being made available for the Scheme by the council, to help even more local people wanting to have a home of their own at a lower cost and housing applicants registered on the council’s Housing Waiting List and council tenants are being invited to apply for the scheme. If you are interested, contact Cheryl Adams at BHA on 01992 453700.

Last cabinet meeting before election

Written on . Posted in Animal welfare, Business, Epping, Housing, Local plan / planning our future, Meetings, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council

St John’s Road development, housing improvements, dog control orders were among the items discussed by members of Epping Forest District Council’s cabinet met on Monday 23 April 2012.

St John’s Road development

Watch the report on the St John’s Road development

St John’s Road development consultation closed at 5pm. A petition was handed in before the meeting of the cabinet which will be looked at under petition rules. Councillors were anxious that as many people as possible responded to the formal consultation process in order to play a full part in the planning process.

Overview and scrutiny

Watch the report on overview and scrutiny

Further work on fire-safety in communal areas of flats is to be undertaken by the housing scrutiny standing panel. Among the items to be progressed in the new municipal year will be the scrutiny of the roll-out of high-speed broadband across the district.

Extra £770,000 for housing

Watch the report on housing improvements and service enhancements

The new self-financing strategy for the housing revenue account is beginning to show tangible benefits as councillors decide how to spend the additional £770,000 of improvements to the housing stock. Tenants and leaseholders consulted on the proposals have expressed support.

The 15 programmes of improvement proposed by the housing scrutiny panel and supported by the cabinet are:

  1. Mains-powered smoke detectors in every council property – £325,000 in 2012/13
  2. Free handyperson scheme for elderly and disabled tenants in sheltered and other council accommodation – £13,000 one-off for new van and £77,500 ongoing
  3. Increased disabled adaptations budget for one year – £75,000
  4. Conversion of communal toilets into disabled toilets in sheltered housing and community halls – £40,000
  5. Refurbishment of common room and communal kitchen at Jessopp Court, Waltham Abbey – £35,000
  6. Expansion and refurbishment of Princesfield Estate Play Area – £30,000
  7. Permanent part-time housing fraud officer – £8,000
  8. New senior housing officer (social housing fraud) – £28,500
  9. Key safes for sheltered housing schemes – £25,000
  10. New under-occupation officer £24,000
  11. Increase existing budget for estate improvements and enhancements by £20,000
  12. Expand Voluntary Action Epping Forest garden maintenance scheme for older and disabled tenants – £20,000 2012/13 and £20,000 2013/14
  13. Additional dog waste bins on housing estates – £7,500
  14. Grant to Epping Forest Recycling Scheme providing furniture to tenants in economic hardship moving into unfurnished homes – £10,000
  15. In-year housing improvements and enhancements fund £40,000

 Dog control orders – consultation

Watch the report on dog control orders

Consultation on greater powers to regulate and control the activities of irresponsible dog owners is to be carried out by Epping Forest District Council. Under the proposals, dog-walkers could be restricted to walking no more than four dogs at a time, encourage the removal of dog faeces, and powers to instruct dog-walkers to put their dogs on leads at the request of an authorised officer.

Councillors are at pains to emphasise the consultation nature of the proposals to cabinet. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible and the Council has no intention to penalise them through changes to local dog control orders.

In addition to the general invitation to residents to comment, Town and Parish Councils which control large areas of land popular with dog-walkers are among those to be consulted directly.

Powers to enforce dog orders could be extended to include council officers, PCSOs and designated officers of the Corporation of London responsible for Epping Forest

Straw Bale Houses in Millfield

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Planning, Residents, Your community, Your environment, Your home

Four innovative ‘Straw Bale’ houses will be built at Millfield, High Ongar, following a recent planning decision by Epping Forest District Council. This will be the first development of Straw Bale housing to be built in Britain by a housing association.

Two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom houses are being developed by Hastoe Housing Association in partnership with Epping Forest District Council, on former Council-owned land. The land was transferred to Hastoe at a discounted price, and the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is contributing a grant of £92,000 towards the building costs. The properties are being developed by DCH, a local contractor based in Coggeshall (details to be added) and work will start within the next couple of weeks. The four houses will be completed in March 2013 and will be let at affordable rents to families on the Council’s Housing Register.

There are a number of benefits of using straw bales to build the houses.  In particular, whilst the costs of construction are similar to the costs of conventional construction, houses constructed of straw bales need almost no conventional heating due to their exceptionally high insulating properties. The tenants will benefit from fuel costs around 85% cheaper than the average costs for heating similar homes of traditional construction.

Structural parts of the houses, such as the walls, will be built using timber frames, in-filled with the straw bales. The walls will be covered externally, with a lime render. The character of straw bales houses will suit the rural location of the site at Millfield, overlooking farmers’ fields. With clay tile roofs the houses will incorporate as many natural materials as possible and will have a slightly rustic quality, although overall they will have the appearance of conventional homes. The timber porches will be roofed with sedum plants.

Since the straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it is growing, it is widely accepted that buildings of this type of construction have a low, zero or even negative carbon footprint. When complete, the high level of energy efficiency will reduce CO2 emissions by around 60%, compared to conventionally-built homes.

The straw bales used for construction are a sustainable by-product of farming, and every effort will be made to source the bales locally. Tests on other straw bale structures by the University of Bath have established that they are strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds up to 120mph – enough to defy the huff and puff of any big bad wolf!  They also have a fire rating at least double that required by Building Regulations.

“We are very pleased that the first straw bale houses in the country built by a housing association will be in the Epping Forest District, and that the Council has played such an important part in the success of the project so far” says Council Spokesman. “The reduced fuel costs will be an enormous help for families on low incomes, and we are very pleased to be at the forefront of such an eco-friendly scheme“.

Hastoe’s Chief Executive, Sue Chalkley, says: “We look forward to starting work on these straw bales homes as this is an exemplar project. Hastoe is committed to providing affordable housing in rural areas for the benefit of local people. Sustainability is a key part of our approach and this is mirrored by Epping Forest District Council’s drive for highly energy efficient homes. We have been through an extensive design and Hastoe Logoplanning process to ensure that the new homes will be a real benefit to the community.”

Private sector housing strategy consultation

Written on . Posted in Consultation, Housing, Private housing, Your council, Your home

Image of Private sector Housing Strategy coverWe want your views on our draft private sector housing strategy.

Private sector housing is extremely important, it has a bearing on the quality of life and wellbeing of many residents in our district and we would like your views on our draft private sector housing strategy.

The new strategy deals with financial help to repair / adapt homes, provide advice, assistance and specialist support to owner-occupiers, leaseholders, private sector tenants and landlords, how we use enforcement powers to ensure unsatisfactory properties meet legal standards, disabled facilities grants, bringing long term empty homes back into use and how the council sees the private rented sector contributing to the supply of affordable housing.

Read the draft strategy:

Draft private sector housing strategy 2012 to 2015 (pdf 281 KB) Epping Forest PSHS 2012-2015 _Draft_

We need your views by Friday 30 March 2012 when the consultation ends, the strategy will then be amended as necessary before being considered by Cabinet on 23 April 2012.

You can send us your comments by email to privatesectorhousing@eppingforestdc.gov.uk or write to Private Sector Housing Team, Epping Forest District Council, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping, Essex CM16 4BZ.

 

Council consults on way to assess housing land

Written on . Posted in Consultation, Democracy, Housing, Planning, Your council, Your home

pping Forest District Council is consulting on how to assess land for potential future housing (the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA)) as part of the new Local Plan.

Portfolio holder for planning and technology councillor John Philip said: “Epping Forest District Council strives to strike the right balance between the need for more housing and development on one hand and protection of our existing heritage and environment on the other. The Local Plan was adopted in 1998 and last revised in 2006. A new Local Plan will be essential to continue to defend the district against unsuitable planning applications and encourage such applications that are what we would want for our local community.”

The new plan will cover the period up until 2031. Council Planners need to identify where to put homes and employment in the future, as well as how best to protect our Green Belt, heritage and natural resources. The Plan needs to be evidence-based and consistent with national policies. The evidence is being gathered now.

Once the council has sufficient evidence, all the issues and options can be set out. Input from community groups and the public on proposed ways forward will then be sought.

Councillor Philip said: “I would stress that the SHLAA does not allocate sites, it merely reviews them.”

The methodology proposed follows Government guidance. It aims to establish the way in which the council will assess every site in the district which may be suitable for more than six homes. The review information is then used to inform the allocation process at a later date.

Epping Forest District Council will be consulting residents throughout the plan process to ensure the views of the community are fully considered.

Councillor Philip concluded: “If you wish to review and comment on the SHLAA methodology, please visit the Forward Planning section of our website at between 10 October and 18 November 2011

New leasing scheme for private landlords

Written on . Posted in Housing, Residents, Your home

A new scheme being introduced by Epping Forest District Council aims to help more local people find affordable rented housing.

The scheme is called HALD (Housing Association Leasing Direct) and it is being provided in partnership with a well-respected national partner, Genesis Housing Association.

HALD will help local landlords by taking over the management of property lettings, while making more homes available to people with lower incomes.

Under the scheme, landlords can lease a property to Genesis for three or five years and receive guaranteed rent when the property is occupied by tenants.

Genesis also offers a professional management service with no management fee or commission charges. This includes:

  • rent collection and accounting
  • regular inspections by experienced surveyors and housing officers
  • a contact centre ensuring day-to-day repairs are addressed promptly
  • an emergency out-of-hours maintenance service
  • responsibility for the payment of all utility bills and Council Tax
  • legal action, where necessary, at no extra cost

Properties leased by Genesis from private landlords will be let to families that have approached the council for housing assistance. This scheme is just one of a range of council initiatives to help people who need affordable housing. In addition to the HALD scheme, the council works closely with other social housing providers to develop new affordable homes for rent. Shared ownership opportunities may also be available and these are advertised on the council’s website.

A deposit guarantee scheme is operated through a voluntary organisation called Epping Forest Housing Aid. This helps people who are looking for private rented accommodation, but cannot afford the damage deposits required by private landlords.

Landlords interested in leasing their properties should contact the Genesis Landlord Enquiry Team on 0208 900 4800, or email landlords@genesisha.org.uk

Gas safety week – take care, be Gas Safe

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Residents, Your community, Your environment, Your home

GSW bannerEpping Forest District Council is proud to be supporting Gas Safety Week from 12 to 18 September 2011.

Gas Safety Week is run by Gas Safe Register, the only official list of gas engineers who are legally allowed to work on your gas boiler, gas cooker and gas fire.

By law, all gas engineers must be on the Gas Safe Register, which replaced CORGI.

Gas Safety Week aims to raise awareness of gas safety and the importance of taking care of your gas appliances. Badly-fitted and poorly-serviced gas appliances can cause gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it but it can kill quickly with no warning.

If you rent your home, your landlord must keep gas appliances supplied for you to use in good condition. They should arrange a gas safety check every 12 months and give you a record of the check.

Follow these top tips to help keep you and your family gas safe:

  • make sure only a Gas Safe registered engineer works on your gas appliances
  • make sure gas appliances have a regular service and an annual gas safety check
  • always check the engineer’s Gas Safe Register ID card

GSW banner

For gas safety advice or to find and check an engineer, visit the Gas Safe Register website at http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/ or call the free helpline on 0800 408 5500.

By taking care of your gas appliances properly, you are taking care of your home and your loved ones.

New homes, old homes and old bangers

Written on . Posted in Councillors, Democracy, Housing, Meetings, Your council

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Cabinet reviews success at Springfields, affordable housing and MoTs at Langston Road.

Return of council housing?

Many years since the last council-owned housing was built, members of Epping Forest District Council’s Cabinet explored some of the financial issues affecting any potential new council house building programme. Councillor Chris Whitbread asked if a slower payback, leading to greater numbers of new affordable homes could be considered by the Council, should it receive satisfactory assurances about long-term government financing conditions.

Councillor Gagan Mohindra, Finance Portfolio Holder sought to reassure councillors at Cabinet on Monday 18 July that any decisions taken now were to move the potential process forward in principle. Councillors agreed on the need for more information as they strived to find ways of helping to meet some of the outstanding demand for affordable housing for local residents.

Councillors of the Housing Scrutiny Panel have been asked to look in more detail at the feasibility of undertaking a new house building programme and report back to Cabinet.

Cabinet agreed to recommend a bid of £50,000 to Full Council for consultancy, treasury management advice and costs leading to obtaining a necessary credit rating.

Springfields – Improvements in under budget

Accounts for the major improvement scheme for the Council-owned flats at Springfields in Waltham Abbey, completed in August 2009 have been settled. Cabinet received reports on the final accounts showing the project came in £40,000 under the original budget at £3,660,000. Councillor Maggie McEwen, Housing Portfolio Holder agreed residents were very pleased with the outcome despite many challenging difficulties that emerged during the works. Councillors Richard Bassett and Stephen Murray congratulated both current Portfolio Holder Maggie McEwen and former Portfolio Holder David Stallan on the outcome.

MoT investment

A popular council-owned MoT facility in Loughton is helping to keep Council Tax down. Councillor John Wyatt, Support Services Portfolio Holder told Cabinet that members of the public seemed to like obtaining MoTs through the Council. Although primarily for servicing and testing its own fleet of vehicles, the Council’s vehicle maintenance workshops at Langston Road in Loughton also offer MoTs to the public. Last year Fleet Operations, which runs the centre returned an £85,000 surplus thanks largely to the MoT work. Cabinet approved the purchase of a new vehicle lift and ancillary equipment costing £24,000 to increase capacity, the income from which helps to fund other services and reduce Council Tax.

Innovative in-sourcing approach for housing repairs

Written on . Posted in Housing, Housing repairs, Residents, Your home

Epping Forest District Council has just signed an innovative repairs management contract with Mears Direct for up to 9 years, which harnesses the commercial benefits and experience of a large private sector contractor, coupled with the advantages and cost-effectiveness of the repairs workforce being retained in-house by the Council. Referred to as in-sourcing by the Council, this unique approach is believed to be the first in the country, and forms part of the Council`s comprehensive Repairs Refresh Programme.

For many years, the Council`s repairs service has been provided by its in-house Building Maintenance Works Unit. Many other local authorities have outsourced their repairs service in the past and delivered it entirely through a private contractor. Usually, this involves all of the Council`s tradesmen, office staff and managers transferring to the contractor under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE).

However, this is often seen as a high risk and potentially high cost approach, for both the landlord and the contractor. The contractor has to employ an unknown workforce, and therefore ensure that its contract price includes significant contingency costs, met by the Council. The Council also runs the risk of the contractor going into administration in the future, and losing all the workforce “ as has been the case with two large repairs contractors recently.

The Council also sees many advantages to retaining its own repairs workforce, which is reflected in the Council`s consistently high levels of customer satisfaction. However, the Council has recognised that a much more commercial and streamlined approach needs to be taken, and that it would benefit from the support and experience of a large repairs contractor like Mears Direct, which can also give access to its well-developed back-office functions such as health and safety, HR, procurement and, crucially, its customer-orientated IT systems.

Insourcing, through the Council`s Repairs Refresh Programme, takes the unique and innovative approach of combining the benefits of retaining an in-house team, with the commercial best practice of a large private sector contractor, to deliver a first class repairs service. The approach is expected to become a blueprint for the future delivery of repairs by social landlords, especially since housing associations are able to benefit from the 20% saving in VAT by providing the service in-house, rather than through an outsourced repairs contract.

In order for Mears Direct to receive performance payments, the contract requires the company to achieve all the challenging performance targets each quarter. These include undertaking emergency, urgent and routine repairs within 4 hours, 3 days and 2 weeks respectively, whilst maintaining 98% tenant satisfaction.

In addition, Mears Direct has to deliver 5 key projects in the first year, including the installation of its own streamlined repairs IT system, the introduction of an appointment system for all repairs and mobile technology for the Council`s repairs workforce, and the provision of a more cost-effective supply chain for repairs materials – for the Council to benefit from the purchasing power of Mears Direct to reduce unit costs.

A further innovation was the appointment process for the contractor. Representatives of the Council`s Tenants and Leaseholders Federation were involved in the formulation of the approach from the outset, which was devised by Cameron Consulting, specialist procurement advisors in the construction industry.

Since the in-sourcing approach involves the physical placement of a Manager to lead the Repairs Service, the appointment process culminated in a novel Assessment Centre, where the candidates identified by each of the tenderers as their potential repairs managers were required to participate in a range of exercises to assess their suitability, as well as that of their employer.

Jane Nelson, Mears Directs Managing Director said Epping Forest District Council`s innovative tender for the appointment of a repairs management contractor is the first of its kind in the country and everyone at Mears is excited at the prospect of being part if it. We believe this will be a model that will be emulated by many social housing landlords throughout the country.

The Council`s Housing Portfolio Holder, Councillor Maggie McEwen said The Council has considered, on the one hand, the wishes of our tenants to continue to have the Council`s own tradesmen undertaking repairs in their homes and, on the other, the need to improve efficiencies and value for money through a more commercial approach. She continued, In-sourcing is the perfect low-risk for the Council and its tenants. Mears have demonstrated through their tender that they have a good understanding of what the Council is trying to achieve. In these times of austerity, I am confident that with the experience Mears can bring, the Council will be in a much better position to provide a good quality, efficient, repairs service long into the future.

The Council`s Assistant Director of Housing, Paul Pledger, and Mike Gammack from Mears Direct, have been invited to present the in-sourcing approach at the Chartered Institute of Housings Annual Conference in Harrogate later in June.

All Council Homes Made Decent Ahead of Target

Written on . Posted in Housing, Housing repairs, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home

Epping Forest District Council has now completed a major programme to bring all of its properties up to the Government`s Decent Homes Standard “ one year before the Government`s deadline.  Many other councils and housing associations are still a long way off completing their programmes.

Doreen Osborne, aged 67, is just one of thousands of Epping Forest District Council tenants enjoying improvements to their homes under the Council`s Decent Homes initiative. Mrs Osborne had a complete new central heating system and a brand new, enlarged kitchen installed by the Council. 

Doreen Osbourne with Chairman of Council Anne Grigg and Housing Portfolio Holder, Cllr Dave Stallan

Doreen moved into her home in James Street, Epping when she got married over 40 years ago. She said The Council allowed me to choose everything from the layout, the flooring, and the cupboards “ even the handles. I now have the kitchen I have always wanted so I`m thrilled to bits. Yes, the work was messy and disruptive at times but the Council staff and their contractors have all been wonderful and almost become part of my family!

The Decent Homes Programme aims to ensure all properties are in a reasonable state of repair, enjoy modern facilities and are energy efficient. Some properties only need minor work but, since 2001, over 3,500 of the Council`s properties have had more major improvements such as new kitchens and bathrooms, heating systems, windows and doors, better insulation or new roofing. Many homes have also been fully rewired. The Council has managed to meet the Decent Homes target set by the Government nearly a year ahead of schedule and, unlike many other councils, without having to set up an arms length management organisation (ALMO) or with any additional grant funding from the Government. In doing so, the Council is independently assessed as being in the top 25% of Local Authorities and Housing Associations for having the lowest direct cost per property for maintenance and resident satisfaction with the quality of their home.

The Council`s Portfolio Holder for Housing, Cllr David Stallan said This has been a hugely successful scheme for the Council. It`s very important to us that all our tenants live in decent homes with modern facilities. In the current economic climate, the importance of making homes energy efficient becomes even more obvious as this helps to reduce people`s gas and electric bills. I`m delighted that Mrs Osborne and all our other tenants are so pleased with the work that we and our contractors have done.

However, the Council`s work continues “ since it is now implementing programmes of work to ensure that no properties ever become non-decent in the future.