Tuesday, 31 July 2012

NOLYMPICS III: Homelessness doubles as obscene spending continues

Manchester has 'very nice' areas no doubt, but it ain't home

A very sad day dawned today as at 6.45am I spoke to Susan Bookbinder on LBC about the increasing homelessness in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The number of homeless households in K&C has almost doubled in the past three years to cc2,000 – including cc2,000 school age children – and is expected to rise further as housing benefits caps and cuts continue to kick in. Currently there are around 25 new households accepted as homeless every week – and this doesn’t count those who will not be accepted under the Homelessness and Housing Acts and will never appear on the books.

The impact of Universal Credit next April, coupled with rising rent in Council and housing association properties heading towards the unaffordable ‘Affordable Rent’, could drive people into debt, resulting in yet more households applying for homelessness so they are eligible for Temporary Accommodation (TA).

Now the Council is looking further and further afield for TA to find ‘competitive rates’. We have already seen families uprooted to Barking, Dagenham and further afield. The effect on physical and mental health, schooling, and employment prospects is devastating, and Councillors have already received heartbreaking requests to be ‘brought home’ by families on the brink of despair.

The Council now states it may be ‘forced’ to pay landlords in other boroughs over the odds to secure TA, thereby forcing up rental rates and chasing low income families from there as well. They are currently doing deals with Derby, Nottingham and Manchester, which we are told by the Cabinet member for Housing is ‘very nice’. Thus homeless families will be forced to accept being sent away from everything they know, jobs, families, schools, doctors, social networks, or be removed from eligibility to any housing whatever.

Meanwhile, the Council makes over £1m PROFIT from TA, by keeping the difference between government grants and the cheapest possible rent they can find.

Let’s put this into context. Around one-third of housing benefit/LHA recipients are low income workers; another third are disabled, pensioners or otherwise unable to work; just a third are currently unemployed. In the bizarre world of Kensington and Chelsea this can include property owners, of whom there are housing benefit recipients in every single area, Knightsbridge and Chelsea included.

Property prices in the borough are the highest in the land, and the Council is not only complicit but proactive in increasing them. One example is the sale of un-refurbished basement properties in Elm Park Gardens off Fulham Road. These derelict basements – which had previously been lived in as flats, whatever the Council says (they stated they were storage to avoid paying tax) – were kept off the market for nearly two years so they could ‘achieve the best price’; a case of property banking at its worst. Little corners of the borough are being sold off or bartered with developers – a new school for some private flats on the playground is the latest wheeze. Meanwhile family homes such as park lodges or a large former childrens’ home are being sold off on the open market; the income goes straight into RBKC’s ‘fun fund’ and can be used for whatever they wish.

Despite the above, the Council will bleat ‘there is nowhere to build social housing’.

Take that £1m profit, plus the proceeds of selling the children’s home, and think what you could do with that £8m to mitigate the devastating effects of what is no less than social cleansing. What the Council decided to do with their spare £1m however, is another matter entirely. Exhibition Road Show is a £1m jamboree, or rather, ‘a journey of discovery, a landscape of wonder … London’s most sophisticated street party.’

Click here for link to Road Show events

In short, Kensington and Chelsea Council is playing Monopoly with people’s lives, and using the proceeds on its ‘urban pleasure garden of culture’ and other frivolities.

The obscenity of profiting from the misery of homeless families or pregnant women living in B&B, or sent to live in Manchester, while spending £1m on ‘a landscape of wonder’ is so cynical and heartless it is breathtaking.

2 comments:

  1. I am a first time visitor to your blog and so far largely agree with your comments. However I would like to correct your comments about Elm Park Gardens. The basement areas were never flats for people to occupy and after the houses were converted into flats a long time ago, the basements were used for storage.
    A scheme was devised and approved by the Cabinet to develop a third of the basements for rent to council tenants and develop a third for rent to key workers - all at affordable levels. The building works needed for this happen we're financed by the sale of the remaining basements on the open market. In fact the sale proved so successful that a surplus will be generated which I understand will be used to improve living conditions for council tenants at Grenfell Tower and for developing a small number of of more social rented flats.
    In this instance the high properties values in K&C has been used to help house those in need of Council housing.

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  2. Dear Anonymous, obviously you are very close indeed to this project. I used to live very near Elm Park Gardens and had friends there. From memory I believed people did live in the basements. Also I have since met people who lived in the basements. To double-check I went back in the electoral registers to the 70s, and indeed several of the basements were lived in as flats. I know they were built as staff kitchens and indeed have seen the original fixtures in situ.

    So sorry to say you are mistaken.

    It took five years' persuasion to have the money allocated to social housing; it was to go straight into the RBKC coffers. So there is another side of the story.

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