23 July 2009

Council Houses, Homelessness and Decent Homes

Occasionally I come across issues that seem so straightforward that I am left struggling to imagine what it is that I am missing. Today I came across one of those.

A number of residents have identified two small houses on Friendly Street that are empty. They have been empty for some time and one of them was subsequently squatted. They remain empty. So I asked Officers for an explanation. I have removed the actual properties from the answer and amended it very slightly so it makes sense.

"I have been informed by the Empty Homes Manager that the properties on Friendly Street are owned by the Council, but managed by Lewisham Homes and have been void since Feb and May 2009 respectively. I have been informed that Lewisham Homes have 12 long term voids on their books awaiting a decision on either disposal or awaiting identification of funds to renovate."

So now we have it confirmed that the two properties on Friendly Street are joined by a further 10.

The reply goes on to explain about the costs of rennovating these two properties and the dangers of leaving them void - quite apart from the scandalous waste of voids when we have such a large waiting list:

"One property had been used by squatters however, possession was regained in May 2009. Both properties are being monitored and one is currently being treated by Pest Control. Both properties require substantial investment (possibly in excess of £60K) to repair and bring them up to a decent homes standard. A proposed full survey and schedule of condition is planned so that an informed decision can be made."

It is good news that we will find out how much it will cost renovate the properties - £60k sounds a lot - and perhaps has arisen on account of poor maintenance over the years.

"The Empty Homes Manager has confirmed that even when improved, both these dwellings would not be ideal and will remain small and poorly arranged dwellings. Therefore it may well be that disposal may free up substantial capital receipts that can be made available to improve other urgently needed repairs on other non- decent dwellings."

Lewisham has a large waiting list of people and families waiting for social housing -and I know these include a large number of people in Brockley. I think many would be happy to live in a property in Friendly Street and the reply says nothing about the suitablity of the other 10 homes that could be up for sale.

The argument goes that the money from the sale of these houses would allow more homes to be made 'decent'. Now why does that not work - Lewisham has a legal obligation to make all its homes decent - and has put in place or has plans for all its properties through such things as the Brockley PFI or Lewisham Homes. In fact one of the big drivers for creating Lewisham Homes was to allow money to flow in to create decent homes...

However what that course of action means that for want of money to pay for a backlog of repairs we could be losing twelve Council homes - at a time when waiting lists are astronomically high already and the recession will only put more pressure on to the lists.

There's also another issue - in new build in Lewisham we insist (rightly) on a range of housing tenures not just because we need more affordable housing in Lewisham but that it contributes to balanced communities. This proposal seems to work against our wider planning policies.

No comments: