Gladstone Court is a residential housing development on Hartington Road adjacent to St Martins School. The block itself is not new, having formed variously student accommodation and social housing over the years, but it is about to embark upon a new chapter.
In January of this year, Housing Committee approved a proposal to buy the block of 38 flats and to use the properties to provide temporary homes for people in housing need.
The proposal is part of a move by the council to provide more council-owned temporary housing, to reduce the need to house people in privately-owned accommodation.
Councillor David Gibson said: “We will be bringing these flats back into use as social housing. It is more cost effective for the council to provide temporary housing itself rather than rely on private landlords at great cost to the public. We can also ensure higher standards and support for tenants, support that cannot often be offered in the private sector.”
On Tuesday October 7th the council hosted a zoom meeting for the community surrounding the scheme to find out more. This was attended by 17 local residents, ward Councillors, council housing staff and Sussex police.
At the meeting, Cllr Gibson, Martin Reid – Assistant Director of Housing and Ododo Dafe – Head of Housing Improvement outlined the scheme in detail. Key points included:
- The scheme will be aimed toward those that the council has an obligation to house, and who are currently in temporary emergency accommodation – likely to be in hotels or B&B’s
- Tenancy at Gladstone Court will be short term – probably around 6 months – whilst suitable permanent council accommodation is found.
- This will be less costly for the council than funding private accommodation and will be of better quality and more suitable to the incoming residents.
- All of the incoming residents will be known to the council, and a full risk and needs assessment will have been carried out before offering tenancy.
- Ongoing security measures will be in place for the benefit of incoming residents and neighbours.
- Unlike the recent Phoenix Halls initiative, this scheme is not aimed toward rough sleepers. This scheme is for people already in emergency accommodation, and will be a mix of single people, couples and families.
This was followed by a Q&A session. Main points below:
What is the rough idea of the profile of the single people you have a duty to house?
People in a situation where they are in danger; could be vulnerable (age, mental health, physical disability), people who have lost private, rented accommodation; people who can no longer live with families; people fleeing violence including domestic violence.
If this is to work, we need everyone on side. What is in place in previous situations to forge integration?
Hanover Homeless Support have been very welcoming. Because occupancy is shorter-term than usual, the more important relationship needs to be with the council as residents won’t be living in the accommodation very long.
Could the community space be used for coffee morning or a quiz?
It would be good to enable that kind of connection, however the residents will be just ordinary people dealing with their own lives and may just want to get on with it. Lovely that things might happen to welcome people, but we can’t assume that ‘welcoming’ is what they would want.
What is the vetting process?
These are clients that we have a duty to house. We will only be allocating people appropriate to that accommodation. Generally, relationship breakdown or lost accommodation. Simply mainstream clients so idea of ‘vetting’ is less appropriate. When people are allocated to Gladstone, we will be looking at those in more temporary ‘spot purchase’ accommodation (200ish at the moment) and we will put people into Gladstone who are managing well, focusing on those who have had to leave the city for their temporary accommodation and need to come back.
What will be the level of security/weekend and evenings?
We want to make sure there aren’t any issues. We were thinking of having security that will drop in at certain times of the evening and weekend. At the beginning we might have more to make sure it gets off to a good start. We need to make sure those who are living there are safe as well. There will be an out-of-hours number that people can call and security would come and deal with any problems.
We welcome homeless people in the community. However, council engagement has only really arisen due to complaints from the head teacher. There are pupils on site from 8am. We have concerns about the process that has led to this site being considered suitable.
We will need to have ongoing conversations with teachers and governors. We spoke to the St Martin’s head before we completed the purchase. We’ll make sure we mitigate any concerns neighbours have if something arises. Most people will be with their own children. There’ll be 24 hour contact. There may be problems but we’ll be there, visible and accountable
We would be interested to hear from the school about any particular measures that were taking before with previous neighbours, and any factors that the school would have been mindful of, having neighbours in such close proximity. There are processes around school structures, so anything useful that has done in the past, we would like to know and we’d like to emulate that.
This is the first time the council has managed accommodation in this way. Do you have mechanisms in place for any difficult behaviour that will arise?
Although we haven’t managed emergency accommodation before, we’ve managed other types and temporary accommodation, which is not dissimilar to this – similar client group and set up. We have staff in place used to manage and support these people. We have welfare officers to support people and resolve issues. And we will have risk assessed people going in. People who’ve gone through traumatic experiences may behave in unpredictable ways. We think we’re in the best place we can be to deal with things if they arise.
If security make one visit per hour, what happens in the other 55 minutes? Worried that there isn’t someone there all of the time.
Security may not be patrolling every hour. It’s about supporting the people who live there, not supporting those around from the people who live there. This won’t be necessary. The residents are not prisoners, we’re not policing or patrolling. The question is, how would any other landlord in the city do this? What happens in the rest of the hour elsewhere in the city? People will have a tenancy agreement; we will expect as high behaviour from them as any other tenant. If they break that, we will respond to it. We promise to do our best to deal with anything that arises. I don’t want to stigmatise them as people that need to be policed. It’s lovely accommodation which we want people to enjoy as their home.
Will it be like any other accommodation?
We have daytime and out-of-hours support; and want to be in more discussion with neighbours about what those hours would be. There might be times when additional support there – particularly initially. I’m inviting people to think about when this will be needed.
Are there activities that are not allowed in the block? This will mean people may go elsewhere and it’s pushed into the wider community.
We are not housing people with high support needs. These will be their homes – they won’t be thrown out for activities they do within their homes. As they are self-contained flats; security would only get involved if it spills out or they are causing a noise nuisance.
Why is it short term?
Decision made at council that it’s a better use of public money to pay rent to the council for short term accommodation than to private landlords; and funding was agreed for that. In the longer term, all the short term, emergency, accommodation that the council is providing should be of a standard that could be transformed into general needs, longer term accommodation.
I welcome the idea, great initiative. Like many, I have reservations. One is, where is the council setting the bar in terms of unacceptable behaviour?
Tenancy agreement sets out the rights and responsibilities that people have to adhere to. If someone deviates from this, we’ll have a chat and try to respond. Then there’s an escalation process if that doesn’t work. It’s not ‘three strikes and you’re out’ – depends on what’s happening. If they can’t cope in that accommodation, we’ll look for alternatives.
The council is committed to further community dialogue and conversation as this proposal moves forward. The next planned Zoom event will be aimed toward the school community to answer any concerns they may have.
Anyone wishing to know more or to be invited to take part in future discussion should contact Simon Bannister in the city council Communities Team; email@example.com