Housing crisis

Scale of Kent’s social housing crisis revealed as families wait years in cramped conditions

Nearly 20,000 people are still waiting to be relocated by local authorities in Kent, with some families living in cramped conditions for more than two years while waiting to return home.

The longest individual wait on record this year was nine years for a one-bed general-needs house in Dover.

And although it was the longest time on record, the average countywide wait was a year and a half, according to figures obtained by a KentOnline Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Average waits range from eight and a half months in Maidstone to 16 months in Folkestone & Hythe, 20 months in Canterbury and 35 months in Tunbridge Wells.

Overall, the latest data recorded up to September this year shows that at least 19,135 people are still waiting to be housed in Kent and the Medway.

The area with the highest number of people on the waiting list is Canterbury with 2,812 people.

The only area that has seen a drop in the number of people on the register over the past year is Gravesham with 1,075.

But the councils were keen to point out that levels often fluctuate and those in different priority brackets (ranked A to D) will see wait times vary depending on their specific circumstances.

For example, the wait for a Band B property – indicating serious housing need – in Dartford is one to two years for a one-bed flat and two to three years for a two-bed house. But those who need a property with three or more beds have to wait more than five years.

The shortest wait was in Medway, where on average people sit on the register for seven months for a two-bed property.

You should be given a “reasonable preference” if you are homeless or fleeing violence, live in overcrowded or very poor conditions, or need to move for health or welfare reasons.

But dwindling stock levels have put pressure on local authorities who are housing families and individuals according to a system of priority need bands.

Meanwhile, many of those waiting and locked out of the private rental sector are forced to live in shoddy “temporary” housing with little security.

Cherina Turley and her young family are living in a room in her parents' home in Gravesend while they wait to be relocated Photo: Cherina Turley
Cherina Turley and her young family are living in a room in her parents’ home in Gravesend while they wait to be relocated Photo: Cherina Turley

Cherina Turley, 29, and her partner Joe, 27, have been bidding for properties under Gravesham council for more than two years.

The assistant accountant, who works nearby in Dartford, became pregnant with her first child in May 2019 and checked in two months later.

Prior to this, Cherina and Joe, an independent trader, briefly rented in the area but found they couldn’t keep up with the escalating costs.

“My partner and I both work, me part-time because of the kids,” she explained. “We cannot afford private rent and have had conversations with council where they have agreed we are losing £200 a month.

“We put my daughter in nursery early so I could work more easily, but we have to pay £160 a month for that too because we don’t get any benefits.”

The couple have been allocated Band C based on overcrowding and each day Cherina makes an offer on any two-bed properties that become available, but finds demand far outstrips supply.

Council <a class=housing construction in England is at its lowest rate in decades. Photo: PA Archives/Gareth Fuller” data-root=”/_media/img/” data-path=”55DA78ME0WIC2GI8VUCE.jpg” data-ar=”1.40″/>
Council housing construction in England is at its lowest rate in decades. Photo: PA Archives/Gareth Fuller

“I bid on everything we can, but you’re in luck if there’s one property a week that comes up on the Kent homechoice website,” she added.

“After the auction is over, it still says I’m over 20. I have no idea what position I’m in, but there are at least 150 other people bidding on the same property.”

The couple currently live with Cherina’s parents in the Coldharbour area of ​​Gravesend, but the cramped conditions are less than ideal.

Cherina added: “We all live in a room with my parents: myself, my partner and two children.

“I can’t even fit a second bed in my bedroom without getting rid of more furniture that we use to store clothes.

“My eldest will be three in December. Will she start primary school and still sleep in my room?”

Cherina Turley has been waiting on the social housing list for over two years in Gravesend Photo: Cherina Turley
Cherina Turley has been waiting on the social housing list for over two years in Gravesend Photo: Cherina Turley

Meanwhile, the outright exclusion of some people from waiting lists for social housing obscures the true scale of the crisis.

Charity volunteer Sharon Allman, 56, moved from Dartford to Gravesend in 2019 to be closer to her adult children.

She is classified as clinically vulnerable due to a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart problems.

But a recent change to the council’s banding rules means the mother-of-three, who is currently looking for work in a shop or retail business, cannot bid on properties until she has lived in the borough for at least three years.

“I will have been in Gravesend for three years next month, but only then can I start bidding on properties,” she explains.

“I want to work, but it has to be something that I can do at my own pace because having lung disease means I get out of breath very easily.”

According to FOI responses given to KentOnline, there are hundreds of public housing units that remain vacant, with some sitting empty for up to two years at a time.

Ashford has the most empty properties with 123 currently unused, followed closely by Canterbury (70) and Gravesham (57).

Of these vacant homes in Ashford, just under half (52) had been vacant for over a year and 40 for over two years.

When each local authority was asked about this, the most common reasons for vacancies were difficulties in renting accommodation, repairs being carried out or the accommodation needed to be demolished or redeveloped.

So, what do we do ?

Council housing construction in England is at its lowest rate in decades.

Since 1991, there has been an average annual net loss of 24,000 social housing units, according to the homeless charity Shelter.

Local authorities have to set targets for the number of affordable homes to be built in their areas, but few are successfully meeting them.

Gravesham Council said it is committed to meeting the borough’s housing needs and reducing these waiting times “as quickly as possible”.

Cllr Jenny Wallace, Cabinet Member of Gravesham Council for Housing Services, says council is taking action Photo: Gravesham Council
Cllr Jenny Wallace, Cabinet Member of Gravesham Council for Housing Services, says council is taking action Photo: Gravesham Council

Cllr Jenny Wallace, Cabinet Member of Gravesham Council for Housing Services, said: ‘Last year we carried out a thorough review of our housing register to ensure that our council owned accommodation is available to those who are in need of housing. One of the changes made was to extend to three years the period during which applicants must demonstrate that they have lived or worked in the borough.

“Despite everything, with 1,060 households requiring social housing, demand exceeds supply, which is why we are committed to building more social housing in the borough.

“Since 2019 we have built 122 new council owned homes for people on our housing register, have a planning application for 46 more and have a pipeline of another 500 to deliver over the next five years.

“While I understand and understand that this does not make life easier for those waiting for a home to become available, it illustrates our commitment to reducing these waiting times as quickly as possible.”

Elsewhere, Folkestone & Hythe said it plans to build an additional 110 affordable homes to be delivered as rental or condominiums in the next financial year.

Tunbridge Wells plans to build 232 affordable homes, while Dartford has 163 in the pipeline.

In Canterbury, council says that with the housing associations combined, there are plans to complete around 200 social or affordable housing.

Ashford has delivered 77 units over the past 12 months and in the planning process, three programs totaling 12 homes, an independent living program totaling 69 homes and a temporary accommodation program for 23 more.