YORK’S housing services have been hit by a ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit and Covid-19, leaving a backlog of 6,000 housing repairs and maintenance jobs and a 25 per cent rise in the housing waiting list, a council chief has warned.

The ‘manifold, negative’ impacts of the pandemic and withdrawal from the EU are laid bare in a report to councillors by Tracey Carter, director of housing, economy and regeneration at City of York Council.

She said: “Balancing a need to deliver essential services during a global pandemic has been immensely challenging and staff have worked enormously hard in very difficult circumstances to maintain essential services to many vulnerable customers.

“However, as the longer-term national impacts of Brexit began to manifest themselves through labour and goods shortages, the ability of the housing service to maintain the standard of customer service has been compromised.”

She said York’s housing waiting list soared from about 1,500 to 2,000 between 2019 and 2021, with a backlog now of more than 500 new applications.

She warned in the report to tomorrow’s Housing & Community Safety Policy & Scrutiny Committee: “There is huge pressure on temporary accommodation, B&B is being used and the service are looking to temporarily re-open Crombie House prior to demolition and future development, as supported accommodation for people with mental health problems.”

She said the authority was unable to progress some essential projects, for example re-plumbing at Glen Lodge and asbestos removal at Bell Farm, due to a lack of project management.

“A large backlog of repairs and maintenance work, approximately 6,000 jobs, built up during the first lockdown and summer months of 2020,” she said. “This pressure then hit rapidly between July and September as restrictions eased, overwhelming our capacity which was impaired by Covid-safe measures and staff resource issues.”

She said other problems included:

  • An increase in rent arrears from £975,000 in March 2020 to £1.25 million currently.
  • An increased number of void properties - unlet homes in need of repair before they can be relet - from an average of 72 to a level of 159.
  • Requests for price uplifts by contractors to reflect increased material, labour and preliminary costs, with a 10-12 per cent increase typical.
  • Social distancing and home working, which have eroded the close relationship with tenants.

She said an action plan had been drawn up to try to tackle such problems, including triaging repairs to identify and prioritise emergency repairs, and procuring additional contractor support to bring void properties back into a lettable state. Staff would also prioritise housing maintenance away from schools repairs and maintenance activities.

She also warned that failure to address the housing repairs and allocation problems would impact on tenants’ everyday lives and reduce the availability of council houses for vulnerable tenants in the city.