Putting the Great into Greater Manchester

By Lee Sugden, chief executive at Salix Homes

As the electorate of Greater Manchester gears up to vote for its first permanent region-wide Mayor tomorrow (Thursday), I took to the streets of Rochdale this Bank Holiday weekend to do some informal canvassing of opinion.

Well when I say streets, a group of fellow Rochdalians took off to the Crown Oil Arena (still Spotland to most fans) to watch Rochdale AFC play in their final home game of the season, but still a pretty representative bunch we are!

I think it is fair to expect turnout to be quite low.

No one could name more than one candidate, few understood what the Mayor stands for and most lacked interest.

A combination of apathy and a General Election confusing matters left most of this unruly gang preferring Coronation Street over the ballot box on Thursday.

However, for those of us in Greater Manchester a little closer to civic leadership the forthcoming GM Mayoral vote is a critical step in the devolution programme and we have been working hard to make sure housing sits atop the new Mayors in-tray.

Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) is a collection of 27 leading housing organisations who collectively provide a home for 1 in 5 of the population of the region.

We have had a simple message that we have asked all candidates to adopt as part of their campaign, to ensure that everyone in GM can live in a home they can afford. This has been a message that all major candidates have signed up to and as a result GMHP has had a strong voice pushing housing up the political agenda.

We all know we have a housing crisis, and within Greater Manchester this crisis is beginning to rival London and the South East in its importance and is no different to any other part of the country.

Across GM we have an acute lack of affordable homes. The region needs more than 10,000 new affordable homes each year just to meet the existing need.

Some parts of GM have a housing stock that is not structured to meet the needs of the people either today or tomorrow and it needs investment.

The people of GM also recognise the importance of housing with more than 80% saying they feel there is not enough affordable housing in the region.

To illustrate how acute the problems are, let me share with you the housing problems in the part of Salford where Salix Homes works providing 8,300 affordable homes.

Registered on Salford Homesearch are more than 7,500 people who are in housing need. They are not just looking for a change of home, they have been assessed as in a form of need. You can only get on the system if you are in need.

All of these people are actively looking for a home to solve their housing problem, bidding weekly for homes that may become available.

All these people are chasing the same homes each week as they come available.

And here is the problem. Some weeks Salix Homes may only have three new empty homes. We have seen total empty homes as low as 16 and each of these will be let the same week.

There are almost 9,000 chasing fewer than 20 Salix Homes' properties. It’s great for the business plan but shocking for the people.

This is why affordable housing is so important and why the new Mayor must have it high up on their agenda.

We also have more than 1,000 people who come into our Housing Choice office each year and present as potentially homeless. Not everyone ends up being declared as statutorily homeless, but they all attend because their circumstances have become so difficult for them. Sadly, many end up in temporary accommodation and this disrupts schooling and fails to give young people the stable start in live that is so important.

With GMHP in place and ready to support the new Mayor, he or she can look forward to an eager team ready to start work on May 5, providing much needed affordable homes, tackling homelessness and providing jobs and training for many in Greater Manchester.

As coincidences tend to happen, while our debate at the football moved from one topic to another (although the football was rather good on this occasion!) I noticed the outgoing Interim Mayor sitting in the stands.

I look forward to seeing the new Mayor both in the stands at a Rochdale game, as well as standing shoulder to shoulder with housing providers supporting a solution to Greater Manchester’s own housing crisis.