Sunday, 22 September 2019

Social housing may be demolished and rebuilt

Social housing for over 55s  may be demolished and rebuilt

A SOCIAL housing complex for the over-55s in Henley could be knocked down and rebuilt.

Housing association Soha is considering redeveloping Mount View Court, 50 flats off Mount View, instead of refurbishing them.

It says that the demand from older age groups has dropped off in recent years and the flats are in poor condition so a rebuild could be a better investment. The flats were built in 1973.

The association’s management board says it will decide whether or not to go ahead with the idea early next year and the work wouldn’t start until at least 2022.

Residents learned of the plans after noticing that 11 flats had not been reoccupied after the previous tenants moved out. At least one had been empty for a year while scheduled repairs to their own homes weren’t being done.

The residents say they also know of people who applied for a place at Mount View Court and were told by Soha that there were no vacant properties.

They asked Henley town councillor Donna Crook to find out more so she arranged a public meeting which she attended along with Soha representatives, Mayor Ken Arlett and about 45 tenants.

Jude McCaffrey, the association’s head of housing, told the meeting that the 11 empty flats needed substantial maintenance to make them habitable again.

He said if residents had to leave, they would be offered another property in a location to suit them or a payment of up to £6,300. If they wished to return to Mount View Court after the work finished, they would be first on the housing list and flats would have the same amenities as now.

The new complex wouldn’t have a warden as this would be too expensive but it could have a residents’ parking permit scheme as long as all the spaces were on land owned by Soha.

Mr McCaffrey said some flats had been left empty because the board was still discussing its next steps and there would be further public meetings before any decision was taken.

In the meantime, the empty units could be let out through a company called Dot Dot Dot, which places young tenants as short-term “property guardians” while they carry out volunteer work in the community.

Mr McCaffrey added that the overdue repairs to the occupied flats would be carried out as soon as possible.

Councillor Crook, who lives in nearby Abrahams Road, said she didn’t think redevelopment was necessary as long as the existing flats were kept in good repair.

She said Soha had told her that some of the new ones could be let at “affordable” rents, which are fixed below the market rate but typically costlier than “social” rents linked to average local income.

She said: “I’m not happy because those flats should be maintained and let out to tenants if they’re free. We’ve got a housing shortage so it’s wrong to have them just lying empty. They need a bit of TLC here and there but they’re perfectly adequate.

“This has caused upset for the residents as there’s a real sense of community and that will be broken up if they’re all housed elsewhere.

“It’s no good moving them somewhere like the Gainsborough estate because Mount View is nearer the town centre and being there gives them independence.

“If they have to go even further out to villages like Shiplake, it will be hard for those with mobility problems as public transport isn’t very frequent.

“I suppose Soha hadn’t said anything because it didn’t want to worry anyone but people were bound to notice and there was a feeling of uncertainty.

“Some people were reassured by the meeting while others were quite distressed. I’ll be keeping in touch with Soha.

“Whatever happens, Mount View Court should always be social housing for older people because when they downsize it frees up houses for younger families. It benefits everybody.”

Councillor Arlett said: “I think Soha should be housing people in the 11 empty units. When you consider that there are a couple of thousand people on the housing waiting list, I am sure someone would have taken a short-term let.”

Rosemary Reed, 76, who has lived at Mount View Court for about eight years, said: “We’ve been aware that something was happening as people would die in those flats and no one else moved in.

“The upkeep on occupied flats hasn’t been very good for some time either. We asked what was happening but they didn’t really answer our questions.

“It’s all very unsettling as none of us is getting any younger and we thought coming here would be our last stop. We don’t want to be moving home again at this time of life.

“They’ve said they want to make the place more wheelchair-friendly and improve the bathrooms but I don’t see why they can’t renovate one flat at a time.”

June Parker, 77, who moved in about six years ago, said: “We’ve got everything we need around here, like the doctors’ surgeries and the hospital. A lot of us don’t drive, so moving would make it harder to get out and about.

“We’ve built a nice little community here where people meet to chat and have tea in each other’s front gardens and it would be sad to lose that.”

Christina Maloney, 82, who has lived there about 20 years, said: “With so much uncertainty, you can’t concentrate on your everyday life any more. The thought of having to move is always on your mind.”

In recent years Soha has extensively refurbished several of its properties including Olga Mowforth House in Woodcote, Sidney Harrison House in Shiplake and the houses at Icknield Place in Goring, which were demolished and rebuilt as the Towse Court flat complex. The last of these included a number of “extra care” units to be sold under shared ownership rather than rent them as social lets.

Mr McCaffrey told the Henley Standard: “I was pleased that the meeting was well attended and town councillors were able to join us. We chose a venue near to Mount View Court and provided transport to make it as easy as possible to come.

“There was agreement that Mount View Court’s Seventies design no longer provides the best accommodation for older people. Modern housing is more spacious as it’s built to wheelchair standard and is much more fuel-efficient.

“The closure process is designed to be lengthy to give plenty of time for consideration. If, after consultation, Soha decides to go ahead, we’ll take as long as is necessary to move residents.

“We will arrange for them to view as many alternative Soha homes as they need until they find one they like. We arrange their removals and they receive a home-loss payment.

“We wrote to residents after the meeting to summarise all the points raised and will meet them again in the autumn. They have our contact details if they have any concerns.”

He said the letting arrangements for a new development would only be decided after a housing needs assessment had been conducted as part of a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council.

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