Chris Thomas, MHK, faced some detailed probing, earlier in January, when he outlined his remit and aspirations as Chair of the recently instituted Housing & Communities Board.
Chris was speaking at Liberal Vannin’s first public meeting of 2022 at the Manx Legion Club, which was well attended with representatives from the charity Housing Matters, Isle of Man Green Party, Manx Labour, Positive Action Group, the government’s Department of Infrastructure and many others, along with long standing and recently joined members of Liberal Vannin.
Following Chris’s introduction, during which he explained the key workstreams that he had been tasked with and agreed with Chief Minister, Alf Cannan, – Housing and Communities Board Proposed Workstreams (politico.im) – Liberal Vannin Chair, Paul Weatherall challenged him to identify some key outcomes that he hoped to achieve within the next five years. Chris would not be drawn further on that, beyond the outcomes specified for each workstream. These Housing & Community outcomes are:
- Homelessness addressed with social inclusion promoted, as having a home enables a better life
- Barriers removed and incentives refocused to enable Island residents to own their own homes, and improved quality and availability of, and arrangements for, rented housing
- Vibrant communities, protecting our ‘green fields’ from unnecessary development
- Clear and fair housing and tenancy legislation
- Sufficient accessible housing that reflects how residents want to live
- Adequate support provided for adapted housing
- Building standards contribute towards net zero targets
- Coordinated housing policy, with optimised regulation and operations
Chris went on to outline what he saw as potential “quick wins” within the first year or two of the Board’s operation. These he identified as:
- Emergency night shelter and ‘Housing First’ supported living arrangements commissioned, building on the previous call for expressions of Interest, and which requires budget and urgent legislation
- Wider access to shared equity with more appropriate thresholds and other terms
- Revisited emergency loans and other social security adaptation for housing
- Tenancy deposit scheme introduced
The ensuing discussion highlighted the following key issues:
- Whether there was a need to establish one or more Housing Associations or similar institutions on the Island, and how would that impact on existing bodies providing social housing;
- How big a priority should be given to the 6,000 households in social housing, as opposed to the 36,000 households in private accommodation;
- The dangers of creating negative equity for owner occupiers if there was to be a sudden increase in building new “affordable” homes;
- The problems landlords sometimes face when tenants default on their rent if benefits are withdrawn and how government, local authorities and charities such as Housing Matters and Graih can co-operate with landlords and tenants to prevent evictions or deal with the aftermath should people be made homeless.
- The crisis facing young people in particular who have returned or moved to the Island, often with well-paid jobs but who find that they can’t find suitable accommodation and are having to consider a decision to move back to the UK;
- Many people who own and rent out second or multiple properties do so as their only or main source of income or as their pension plan. Any moves to legislate against them would create great hardship;
- Housing on the Island has been highlighted as a problem issue for years, if not decades. The current crisis is a result of past failures to properly address it;
- A particular problem with inadequate housing for elderly people in the Ballacurn Housing Trust estate at Ballacobb, Ballaugh was raised, with Chris Thomas asked to investigate it as a prime example of how badly some of our low-income senior citizens are served;
- The need for better co-ordination in Douglas to see “brownfield” sites developed and not left derelict for years when there is a need for housing to be addressed. The role of the Manx Development Corporation in this area was questioned;
- The need to provide a voice for tenants to influence future decisions affecting them.
In closing the meeting, Paul Weatherall, thanked Chris for taking the time to explain how the new Housing & Communities Board hopes to respond to these and other pressing concerns on the Island’s housing front. He highlighted the frustration felt by many at the last administration’s lack of action and stressed that the time for more discussion was limited and the real concerns highlighted by people at this meeting demanded solutions and he hoped that Chris would take that on board – particularly regarding those seeking to afford a home to buy or rent. The plight of people who are technically homeless, albeit staying with friends or family, was one of the issues most often raised during last year’s general election.
For further information, please contact Paul Weatherall, Chair, Liberal Vannin – email@example.com Mobile: +44 7624 479436
Please note also:
Daphne Caine, MHK has confirmed the date for the next Liberal Vannin public meeting on Monday, February 21st – 7.30pm at the Manx Legion Club, Douglas. As the Chair of the government’s Climate Change Transformation Board, Daphne will explain her remit and lead a discussion on the key priorities for the Island’s response to Climate Change. Please add the date to your diary – all welcome.
In March, Dr Alex Allinson, MHK has agreed to lead a discussion on the prospects for introducing public consultation and subsequent legislation on Assisted Dying. Date to be announced. Liberal Vannin is hosting this meeting in partnership with the Facebook group Let Me Choose | Facebook. As a political party, we have no policy stance on this issue, believing that it is a matter for individual conscience. However, given the growing number of jurisdictions enacting such legislation, we believe that the topic should be widely discussed.