City's housing market on the 'edge of crisis'

Norwich is faced with a housing crisis. Pictured inset are councillor Gail Harris and a homeless Norwich mum

Norwich is faced with a housing crisis. Pictured inset are councillor Gail Harris and a homeless Norwich mum - Credit: Archant/Evelyn Simak

Norwich is on the brink of a homelessness crisis, experts have said, as people face down sky-rocketing living costs and demand for affordable homes far outweighs supply. 

The pandemic caused immense strain on the public's finances and nearly two years on experts fear the aftermath will push people into homelessness. 

And while plans are in place for new developments such as the £653m Carrow Works project for 3,500 homes, those on lower incomes are finding the demand for somewhere affordable too much.

A freedom of information request sent to Norwich City Council last month shows there are currently 3,633 on the waiting list for council accommodation in the city.

However a total of just 832 properties were advertised through the council's Home Options scheme throughout 2021.

Homeless people in Norwich will benefit from a Christmas party.

A homeless woman in Norwich - Credit: Evelyn Simak/Geograph

Charities like St Martins Housing Trust are doing their best to support those at risk of homelessness courtesy of services like its base at Bishopsgate.

While the non-profit organisation had many outcomes of people securing accommodation after being housed in hotels during the height of Covid in 2020, the picture remains bleak.

Helen Baldry, from St Martins Housing Trust, said: "We are on the edge of a crisis.

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"The limited availability of affordable housing coupled with rising fuel bills, increased cost of living and squeezed mental health services could push people into homelessness."

Helen Baldry, head of communication and marketing at St Martins

Helen Baldry, head of communication and marketing at St Martins - Credit: St Martins

The city council received 305 homeless applications for the year 2020-21, the lowest the figure had been in five years. 

St Martins has said a "one-size fits all" approach does not work for supporting homeless people with some choosing not to engage with the services on offer. 

It said there are some homeless people who find a hostel route won’t work.

These people have be found to fare better in a ‘housing first’ project, or they may use the Winter Night Shelter where there is no obligation to use it every night.

Councillor Gail Harris, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for homelessness, said: “There are different types of homelessness and we have a variety of interventions in place to break the cycle for those affected.

"As well as providing a range of affordable housing options to meet an array of needs, we also provide free housing advice which prevents hundreds of households from becoming homeless every year.

Gail Harris, Labour candidate for Catton Grove in Norwich City Council elections 2016. Pic: Submiite

Gail Harris, Labour candidate for Catton Grove in Norwich City Council elections 2016. Pic: Submiited - Credit: Submitted

"Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness and we work with partners to find ways to stop this happening in the first place, as well as supporting people to find accommodation.”

The council has said 80pc of households who approached the authority about facing homelessness in the last financial year were prevented from becoming homeless.

A private sector leasing scheme (LetNCC) is offered to try and get more affordable housing to people who may not qualify for the housing register.

And as part of the public health response to the pandemic, the council said it accommodated more than 150 people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. 

A total of 100 people remain supported on average every month by the council's floating supporting and resettlement team.

People over 18 and who have a local connection to the area are also eligible to apply for the council's Home Options scheme.

If successful, they are placed in a band according to priority which is emergency, gold, silver, bronze or "low" need.

But Mathew Thorpe, 33, is among those who struggled to move to more suitable council housing after being placed in the bronze band.

He felt he should have been in the silver category after his 17-year-old sister Leah was forced to move into his one-bed Norwich flat due to family-related issues.

After weeks of struggle, Mr Thorpe was finally moved into a two-bed property in Bull Close.

Mathew Thorpe (right) and his sister Leah have been living in Mathew's one bed flat together for over a year

Mathew Thorpe (right) and his sister Leah have been living in Mathew's one bed flat together for over a year - Credit: Mathew Thorpe

He said: "It felt like I basically had no chance being in the bronze band. It was incredibly frustrating and a hard time. 

"It feels like a knock-on effect. I had to go through a bidding process on the council's website which came with a bit of discrepancy."