Residents of a former colliery community plan to take over the running of dozens of boarded up homes themselves.
A total of 160 homes out of 361 properties managed by Accent housing association stand empty in East Durham – 130 of them in Horden, near Peterlee.
They have become a magnet for antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations.
Horden residents decided to act after Accent announced it was seeking a “programme of disposal”, with a Government minister suggesting last week they could be flogged off for as little as £1 each.
Accent has blamed the controversial bedroom tax for contributing to the low demand for the homes, but residents argue it is the failure to invest in the properties which has made them undesirable.
At a packed meeting convened by the Horden Colliery Residents’ Association (HCRA) on February 18 backed the formation of a community association with the view to acquiring and renovating the properties.
HCRA spokesman John Barnett said:
“Over the many years Accent have invested little or nothing on the properties.
“Although Accent claims the bedroom tax is to blame, we believe it is the lack of investment and the state they have allowed the streets to degrade into that has put people off. The appearance of all the boarded up houses is devastating.”
Residents have approached community housing expert Jo Gooding to help them examine the options.
Accent is hoping many of the homes will be purchased by would-be homeowners under a homesteading initiative, subject to approval by the Homes and Communities Association.
Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:
“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options.
“We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible.
Nearly 200 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up – encouraging crime and damaging the quality of life for their neighbours, an MP has warned.
Easington MP Grahame Morris urged ministers to intervene as he warned that large numbers of homes in Horden and Blackhall, in his constituency, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he said social housing provider Accent had allowed properties to fall into disrepair through lack of investment and by failing to vet new tenants properly.
Mr Morris also warned that changes to housing benefit had meant properties went empty, because they had two bedrooms but were occupied by single people – who had become liable for the bedroom tax.
He won a promise from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into the problems faced by the villages.
The minister also said he would ask the Homes and Communities Agency, the official body which regulates social housing providers, to meet Mr Morris to discuss his concerns.
Leading the debate, Mr Morris said the villages’ problems followed the closure of Horden colliery in 1987, which among other things led to a decline in the local population over time.
Accent managed 361 properties in Horden and Blackhall, Mr Morris said. But 130 of its 220 homes in Horden were currently empty, as well as 30 of the 141 properties in Blackhall.
He warned: “The problem is that, as properties become empty, Accent no longer seeks to let them as homes. Instead, vacant properties are being boarded up, which are an eyesore and a drain on the community.
“It is clear, from walking around the area, that properties have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair and now require substantial work.”
Proposals to improve the homes had been scrapped following the introduction of the bedroom tax, he said, because the only way to ensure the homes were occupied had been to rent them to single people, and this was no longer possible.
But Mr Morris said that local residents complained Accent had not taken good care of its housing stock for many years before the bedroom tax was introduced.
He said: “It seems to have total disregard for the community in terms of vetting potential tenants.
“The residents’ groups, who have worked closely with the local authority and the police, have been out litter picking, clearing up fly-tipping and identifying problems to report to the local authority. However, the residents say that their efforts to clean and improve the area have been undermined.”
The result had been crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations in the empty homes.
The MP urged the minister to ensure the Government invested in the village to improve the housing stock, to replace high-density colliery housing with more modern housing.
One option could be an approach known as “homesteading”, in which homes are sold at a substantial discount to buyers who then spend money to improve the properties, he said.
However, Mr Morris said some public funding would be needed. He told the minister: “I understand that we are in a time of austerity, but if there is a political will, we can overcome any barriers on finance.”
Mr Lewis said:
“He painted a sobering picture of a town struggling with empty homes and the damaging impact that that can have on the wider community. Horden is in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. I appreciate that, having visited the north-east in the past few weeks.”
“We need to see beautiful places such as Horden thriving, but we must also ensure that we fix the broken market so that they can deliver on that.”
Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:
“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options. We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible. We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.
“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future. We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”
Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015
A scheme to force bad housing landlords to clean up their act will be introduced after being approved by councillors.
A Selective Licensing scheme will see private landlords in 13 Hartlepool streets require a licence to operate.
It aims to clamp down on nuisance tenants and drive up housing standards for 544 properties.
There were calls from councillors and members of the Public for more streets to be included in the Hartlepool Borough Council scheme.
But officers warned they should only include streets where there was evidence to show there were problems to protect them from a potential judicial review by private landlords.
The council included streets where at least 50 per cent are privately rented and there was a repeat antisocial behaviour rate of 15 per cent.
Damien Wilson, the council’s assistant director of regeneration, said:
“If you’ve got bad landlords and bad management agents who don’t do proper reference checking and bung anybody in you end up with problems such as antisocial behaviour and drug dealing.
“This is all about driving up standards.”
He added selective licencing has worked in other areas of the town and elsewhere in the country.
The streets that will be the subject of the new five-year scheme are Cornwall Street, Kimberley Street, Richmond Street, and Rydal Street in the Burn Valley ward. In Foggy Furze ward it includes Borrowdale Street and Sydenham Road.
Five streets in Victoria Ward of Dent Street, Furness Street, Sheriff Street, Straker Street, and Stephen Street.
Burbank Street and St Oswald’s Street are also included in the Headland and Harbour and Jesmond wards.
Julie Rudge, secretary of the Dent and Derwent Street Residents’ Association said she was disappointed other streets around Dent Street were not included.
“I know there are issues in streets you are taking out,” she said.
Councillor Carl Richardson said residents of Belk Street also wanted to be included.
Councillor Pam Hargreaves said: “Picking out one or two streets makes it toothless.”
Officers agreed provide details of other streets that could be included if they lowered the criteria standards at the next meeting.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 19 Jan 2015