Social housing flats sold on private market to pay for post-Grenfell safety works

Homes provider accused of using vital flats as a 'cash cow'

Sunday, 17th July — By Dan Carrier

newtonstreetflatsales Image 2022-07-17 at 6.46.13 PM (2)

Jim Monahan and Pamela Yianni in Newton Street

TO the estate agent, it is “superbly located”, just a brief walk to the Royal Opera House in the heart of Covent Garden and boasts a private balcony and a 70ft terrace “with superb views”.

But to the neighbours, two flats which are being marketed for sale by their landlords The Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA) should not be about providing a new pieds à terre for wealthy Verdi lovers – and instead should be used for those in desperate need of affordable housing.

The New Journal can reveal that one-bedroom flats in Victorian blocks in Newton Street are on the market for nearly £600,000. One is already under offer, and viewings are taking place for the second.

The block in Newton Street

Now tenants and civic groups are hoping to force the ISHA into a U-turn, saying the sales go against the spirit of what housing associations are supposed to be for.

In response, the ISHA says the money raised is needed to tackle huge bills caused partly by correcting safety issues across stock which were revealed by the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Jim Monahan, an architect from the Covent Garden Community Association, said: “I just despair. They say they are here to do one thing, and then do the complete opposite. They should put the sale on hold and have an open discussion with tenants.

“They should behave as a proper social landlord, but they just see it as a cash cow.”

Built in the 1870s, the blocks were originally run by social reformer Octavia Hill. By the 1980s, the homes were in poor repair.

Mr Monahan was at that time commissioned to make them fit for purpose and worked to increase space, moving staircases to forge new rooms, making the 33 flats a better mix of sizes and giving each household their own bathroom.

Previously, toilets were shared on a communal landing.

Mr Monahan added: “Low-rent, good quality housing is a prerequisite to ensuring a secure residential community, and also a secure stock of low-rent accommodation is essential in order to be able to provide homes for those that have to work unsocial hours and service the centre of London. Good quality social housing secures a sustainable economy.”

Long-term tenant Pamela Yianni, who has lived in Newton Street for more than three decades, said tenants were fearful this was a trend that would see the number of affordable homes eaten away.

She added: “Nobody here is happy about this. We feel let down that no one has even told us about the plans before it was well underway. Affordable housing has to be protected or it strips the heart out of a city.”

This week, tenants have taken the fight to other estates owned by ISHA, penning an open letter to other tenants, warning them what is happening.

ISHA chief executive Ruth Davison said: “ISHA are passionate about social housing and keeping communities mixed and vibrant.

“That’s why we continued to build social homes when others weren’t and charged the cheapest type of rents. The tragic fire at Grenfell highlighted the shocking standards amongst many building contractors as well as the failure of governments to regulate the industry properly, and we have buildings we need to put right.

She added: “Where we can, we have gone after contractors, where we can’t we have to pay for the works ourselves and the cost runs to many millions of pounds. The board therefore took the painful decision last year to sell a handful of vacant properties each year to fund these works as safety is our number one priority.

“We have listened to the concerns of councillors and residents and added a restriction of the lease so the homes can’t be used for short-term lets such as Airbnb.”

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