Originally published online at Run of the Millield, a hyperlocal website focused on the Millfield suburb of Sunderland, on March 16th, 2013.
The Mayor of Sunderland believes that the proposed ‘bedroom tax’ could benefit the local area – as vacant flats look set to be put to use.
It contradicts what Labour MP for Sunderland Central, Julie Elliott, has said – as she hasopenly opposed the housing benefit plans.
The government’s plans to cut £23bn from their annual bill for housing benefit by restricting living space for those on benefits have caused great controversy. It is estimated that 660,000 households nationwide will have their benefit cut, while the average council tenant will lose about £14 a week.
But Cllr Iain Kay, a Millfield ward councillor, told Run of the Millfield: “There are numerous empty properties above shops on both Hylton Road and Chester Road in Millfield Ward and some have been empty for many years.
“With the introduction of the Bedroom Tax next month, there is a new pressure on social tenants to find extra money for their rents if they have ‘spare’ bedrooms in their properties.
“In many cases, these are family homes and children have grown up and left and many people will be reluctant to move but will have to do so. The challenge is that there is a real shortage of one bedroom properties in the city for people to move into and as a result property owners are beginning to invest in bringing flats above shops back into use.”
Julie Elliott MP has called on all Sunderland councillors to oppose the plans, saying on her website: “In the North East, 37% of people living in council or housing association homes who receive housing benefit will be affected. This translates to a devastating 50,000 being worse off by £676 a year when the bedroom tax comes into force.”
“And gallingly, at exactly the same time as the Bedroom Tax comes into effect, David Cameron is giving thousands of millionaires a tax cut of £100,000 a year,” added Elliott.
But Kay believes there are possible gains for Millfield. He says: “On Hylton Road, there is a big development near the Metro station that will see six shops and 25 flats brought into use and generally that is a good thing for the area.
“I think the consequences of the bedroom tax could be an overall benefit to Millfield as we do not have many larger properties and we could well see some excellent social landlord tenants moving into the area from larger properties they occupy at the moment.
“This is a situation that all the local councillors are monitoring as best we can although new planning regulations do give landlords and developers more freedom than before to do work without planning restrictions.”
In the March edition of ‘Community News East’, the City Council say they are offering help and advice for property owners to bring properties back into use.
The Council is said to be offering help to more than 80 property owners across Sunderland, including properties in Hendon and Millfield. Owners can get a loan of up to 50 per cent of the funding for work needed to repair derelict or empty homes.
Councillor Kay concedes, though, that forced changes such as these bring new problems to deal with.
He said: “My concern is that the actual number of flats/bedsits that are being created is an over-development of the available sites and that having people live in such a high density way could well lead to neighbour conflicts and anti-social behaviour.”
Over 200 anti-social behaviour crimes in Millfield were reported to police in January 2013, making it by far the biggest problem in the area.