TWO cups of tea and a sandwich enjoyed by housing minister Kris Hopkins in Gloucester today were a small price to pay for city residents who were told that he would be writing off £53million of city debt.
The massive debt black hole means that no new social housing has been built by the city council since 1988 – and with a list of 4,500 people desperate to be rehoused that is fast becoming a big problem.
Kris Hopkins MP used his visit to Gloucester City Homes to announce the Government is backing a city council bid to transfer its housing stock to the company and will write off much of the £62million housing debt that the council has.
It will mean that new social housing can be built to help tackle the housing crisis. City MP Richard Graham hopes that the first ‘spade will be in the ground’ by next April when the first 100 new properties will be built.
It will also mean that a relatively debt-free Gloucester City Homes will be able to modernise the current housing stock for generations to come.
Teresa Coull, 58, from Oliver Close, in Tuffley, said: “It is good that there will be more money. Some improvements are necessary. We could really do with some new windows. They let a draught in and they sometimes shake.”
Neighbour Eileen Ballard, 88, added: “It is a wonderful place to live. I have been here for 12 years now. My children say to me if they ended up living somewhere like this they would know that they have made it.
“Everyone should have an opportunity to live in a place like this so it is good that more could be built.”
Mr Hopkins said: “As a local MP and former council leader, I’ve seen for myself the difference stock transfer can make, unlocking millions of pounds to refurbish homes and improve the lives of tenants.
“So I’m pleased to be signing this deal with Gloucester City Council, which could lead to the first new social homes in the city for 25 years, and lead to as much as £30million additional investment in existing stock over the next ten years.”
The change affects 4,800 homes currently owned by Gloucester City Council and managed by Gloucester City Homes.
But before it can get the go-ahead, tenants must vote it through. A vote will be held in the last week of August. Tenants will have four weeks to cast a vote by ballot, phone, text or email.
Tenant Andy Harley, chairman of the Housing Futures Residents’ Panel, said: “This is good news for tenants. Now I hope they vote positively. They can choose to stay as we are or vote for more money for maintaining homes.
“There is still a lot to do. We have got to address the problems with the house stock.”
During Mr Hopkins’ visit, he also said that he did not want to wade into the expenses scandal surrounding his colleague the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller. Mrs Miller was found to have over-claimed on her expenses by £45,000. He said: “It is not part of my brief and I think should stick to that. I am not going to say anymore on the matter.”