Alarm over damp and mould in Cambridge’s older council homes
People living in older council homes in Cambridge are “being left behind”, say opposition councillors, who have raised concerns about reports of damp, mould and condensation.
The Liberal Democrat group at Cambridge City Council has called on the authority to hire more staff dedicated to tackling the issues.
However, the Labour administration said extra staff were not needed, stressing that they were putting “a lot of effort” into dealing with it.
The maintenance of older council homes was raised by Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market) at a housing and scrutiny committee last Tuesday (January 23), where she argued the administration’s proposed housing budget for the coming financial year was “lacking”.
Cllr Porrer said: “Last year we discussed damp, mould and condensation. We asked you to make a permanent resource for this, but you said no, by this year it will be business as usual.
“But we have heard that it has gone up to 408 complaints, with the 331 complaints in the hot weather, so this is clearly not business as usual.”
A report noted there were 14 cases reported last September and 60 in November.
Cllr Porrer said these issues needed to be dealt with - and not at the expense of other maintenance.
She said there was funding available for the proposed new officer roles to deal with the damp, mould and condensation problems, as well as to help officers catch up on other issues around maintenance and compliance.
Cllr Porrer said: “We need to give officers the resources to fix this. You cannot be stealing this from other areas.
“The void costs are up, officers are left firefighting - that is literally the description from the previous report.”
Cllr Porrer said if the properties were allowed to decline the problems with them would become bigger.
She said: “I said many times, new builds are welcome and are necessary, but we have nearly 7,000 homes that are not new builds. We cannot leave them behind, but it is clear this is what is happening.”
The Liberal Democrat group proposed for the new officer roles to include flexible contracts to allow some work outside of normal work hours, which they said would give tenants more options to contact the council.
Cllr Porrer said tenants were not currently offered any repair slots out of typical working hours and those who did not have the “luxury” of working from home would have to take time off if they wanted the repairs done.
Green Party members also stressed the importance of tackling damp, mould and condensation.
They said: “Every time you take a breath in a room where mould spores are present, there is a risk of the spores getting into your lungs. It’s another roll of the die.
“A very small number of residents experience serious and long-term health impacts very quickly.
“We need a better procedure to identify those residents quickly and get them out faster through the direct-let route.”
Cllr Gerri Bird (Lab, East Chesterton), the executive councillor for housing and homelessness, said a lot of effort had been put into dealing with these issues in council homes, but cold weather had led to a rise in the number of reported issues.
She said she had asked officers whether more staff were needed, but was told they did not need it at this time, because they were going through a transformation process.
Cllr Cameron Holloway (Lab, Newnham) said the city council was at a high point in dealing with damp, mould, and condensation complaints, but that should decline as warm weather arrives.
Cllr Holloway suggested that moving council staff around to deal with damp and mould issues when there was an uptick was a better way to tackle the issue than bringing a new person in.
Cllr Baiju Thittala Varkey (Lab, East Chesterton) challenged the Liberal Democrats’ evidence and argued it “lacks credible data”.
The Liberal Democrat proposals for the housing budget did not receive enough support to be adopted by the city council.
Instead, the committee approved the proposed housing budget set by the Labour administration.
This includes a 7.7 per cent increase for social and affordable rents from April - based on inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in September 2023, of 6.7 per cent, plus one per cent.
It means an average council home rent increase of £8.69 per week for all social rented and social shared ownership properties, and an average increase of £13.05 per week, including service charge, for those paying ‘affordable rents’.
Garage and parking spaces are also due to go up by 7.7 per cent.
Rents for affordable shared ownership properties are due to increase by RPI, measured in January 2024, plus 0.5 per cent.
A report presented to the meeting said the rent increase would allow the authority to balance its budget and help pay for work to improve the energy efficiency of 1,700 homes, which it said would lower energy costs for tenants in the long term.