‘Reward for failure’: critics criticize overhaul of council of private homes for the homeless

The Eric Hotel, Voies Vertes. Photography: Google.

The town hall is defending itself against major renovations to five buildings for single homeless people, which the London Tenants Federation says is a “reward for failure” for the private company that owns them.

The ongoing renovation program for the youth hostels in Finsbury Park, Seven Sisters Road, Green Lanes, Queens Drive and Woodberry was announced as a “creative and innovative step” by the council earlier this month.

It leases five properties from Smart Housing Group, with the hostels to be renovated to provide accommodation for the homeless as part of the government’s Everyone initiative.

The works will include specially designed rooms for residents with high needs, wifi, CCTV, 24 hour security and on-site managers – a contrast to the “shameful” conditions previously reported in Smart’s hostels in 2018, like the feces spread on the walls.

While the council stressed that the refurbishment project is backed by a multi-million pound investment by Smart and represents a “great financial deal for Hackney, saving money in the longer term”, the London Tenants Federation ( LTF) says the work is also supported by government funding.

Pat Turnbull of the LTF said: “Accommodation was described in 2018 as ‘dilapidated rooms, water seeping through ceilings, filthy peeling paint’ and where the boiler had been broken for days, leaving people without central heating during a recent cold snap.

“The council appears to have made an offer of government funding to renovate these private hotels, so the owners have a long-term advantage.

“It seems like a reward for failure. The owners of these inns have made money out of it at the expense of public money.

She added: “What we need is permanent council rental social housing. Programs like this don’t even cover cracks. “

The town hall said the leases would help meet the record demand for temporary housing for the homeless.

The number of approaches to the council by homeless people seeking help increased by 39% in 2018/19 from the previous year, and town hall spending on temporary accommodation increased from 7 , £ 38million in 2017 to £ 10.13million two years later.

Three hostels will be included as part of the deal with Smart: Brownswood, 2a Woodberry Grove and Eric Hotel, as well as two hotels, Finsbury and Lanark.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Smart Housing Group or the council.

A spokesperson for Smart Housing Group said: “Smart Housing Group has worked with Hackney Council for over 20 years to provide temporary accommodation to a range of homeless needs in hostels across the borough.

“We have shown that we have a passion for housing the homeless and vulnerable despite the barriers of work.

“We have managed Hackney Council in consultation with its leaders over the years, providing a responsive and dedicated service unlike recent press in 2018.”

They added: “Smart Housing Group is making a substantial investment to develop the hostels to a very high standard with a relatively small contribution from the central government, to help carry out the project. “

Asked to comment on criticism of the LTF, a council spokesperson said: “Hackney is in the midst of a housing crisis, with more than 3,000 households in temporary housing. The council is working hard to tackle this: building hundreds of new homes on dozens of sites, more than half of which for social rent, condominium or living rent.

“Hackney also has the largest stock of temporary youth hostels in London, but it is insufficient to meet the level of demand.

“We currently have no specific temporary accommodation for homeless singles, including the homeless, and rely on placements in private hostels. “

City Hall and Smart have both highlighted a successful working relationship for decades, with the group’s buildings historically used to provide essential housing for a range of households.

Announcing the program, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “The housing crisis has led to a significant increase in the number of people coming to council as homeless. In the past, the board has focused on providing family hostel accommodation, but these new plans, as part of our broader response to Covid for former street sleepers, will now allow us to help find solutions for single people, some with complex needs, who are homeless. ”

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