Former care homes and office blocks in Portsmouth ‘should be used to accommodate the homeless’

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FORMER care homes and office blocks should be considered to prevent homelessness in the city, Portsmouth councillors have said.

At a housing scrutiny panel today, members discussed alternatives to B&Bs for people who were at risk of ending up on the streets.

The aim is to stop stop families and young people becoming homeless and having to 'sofa surf'

The aim is to stop stop families and young people becoming homeless and having to 'sofa surf'

As part of a new homelessness strategy the council is aiming to prevent rough sleeping by helping those in situations such as private rent becoming unaffordable, survivors of domestic abuse and sofa surfers.

It comes as councillors were told that the introduction of the Universal Credit benefits system had seen more rent arrears across the city.

One scheme that has already been approved is to build temporary accommodation flats on the former Southsea Community Centre site.

Speaking to the panel, housing boss Councillor Darren Sanders said: 'It is wrong to be spending £900 a week on B&Bs. But this is not just because of the cost, it is about providing better accommodation for people.

'It is key that we understand the reasons for homelessness. Having so many people here because private tenancies have ended is very concerning.'

But the panel's chairman, Cllr Luke Stubbs, felt there were more sites in the city that could be explored. 'Has any consideration been given for the temporary use of Edinburgh House?' he said. 'That will fall empty somewhere between February and March this year. Although there are plans for the site it is going to be sitting empty a year.

'We have also had a lot of applications going outside of planning to change office spaces into flats.

'They are not really big enough as homes, but on the face of it they could be quite cheap because they can't charge a lot for them. I use Roebuck House in Cosham as an example, they are looking at 200 flats there.

'I am not advocating them as permanent accommodation, but I think it could be a cheap solution.'

Cllr Claire Udy agreed. She said: 'I think using Edinburgh House could be a really good idea. Is there anyway we can recommend this to the council?'

It was agreed that more information on options for temporary accommodation would be provided at the next panel before any recommendations were made.

Between April 2016 and March 2018 more than 2,800 homeless applications were submitted to the Portsmouth City Council, with 50 per cent of these due to private tenancies ending that residents could no longer afford.

The council's assistant director of housing, Paul Fielding, attributed some of this to changes in the benefits system. He said: 'The amount of rent arrears was going down. But since the introduction of Universal Credit a few months ago we have seen out rent arrears plateau and then slightly come up.

'It is definitely having an impact. Across the country rent arrears has risen quite sharply where they have had Universal Credit for a while.'

Portsmouth council currently has 60 temporary accommodation sites which are a mix of family homes, shared houses and flats.