Two years ago, we set ourselves an ambitious target that no one in Brent would be in temporary accommodation supplied by anyone else except Brent LBC by 2024. Laying the last bricks on the 92 new council-owned temporary homes at Anansi House is the first step we have taken towards meeting this target.
The lack of affordable housing has led to a spike in homelessness and as a result, we, like many other London boroughs, have become increasingly reliant on costly, and often poor quality temporary accommodation for families waiting for social housing.
The long-term solution is to build more homes, so we embarked on one of the largest council homes-building programmes in London, seeking to deliver 5,000 affordable homes, including 1,000 new council homes by 2024.
We are making progress in achieving and even exceeding this target. However, we still have a responsibility to provide homes of a good standard for residents in the meantime.
Building our own temporary accommodation means we can guarantee a level of quality that is not always possible when relying on an external supplier. Across London, the emergency housing on offer can be cramped and insecure, and families may need to be placed out of the borough because of the local available shortage.
All the new homes at Anansi House are purpose-built and self-contained, so no family will need to share a kitchen or bathroom with anyone else. Seven will be adapted for wheelchair users and all will be double occupancy. Some have even been designed with sliding walls, allowing two rooms to be made into one, so larger families can stay together.
As all these homes are in Brent, we avoid needing to move families out of the borough. This means children will not need to commute far to school and residents can maintain their existing support networks. These are things that will make a positive difference to people’s lives.
Saving millions a year
Relying on costly private rented housing, bed and breakfasts and hostels is extremely expensive. Anansi House will save the council on average £1.63m per year as we won’t need to pay an external supplier for these rooms. This money can be invested back into the New Council Homes Programme, helping us meet our targets and move families into a permanent home more quickly.
Building during the pandemic
Like many other councils, when the pandemic struck, there was a risk that progress on new housing developments could have slipped. However, the housing team, and our colleagues from Wates Residential acted fast to introduce high safety standards on site so that work could continue. Social distancing measures were enforced, mask wearing was introduced and staff were encouraged to get tested regularly.
We also learned significant lessons during this project. Perhaps the most important was the value of having the support of senior officers and councillors. This is what enabled our New Council Homes Programme to accelerate at the pace it has and continue throughout the pandemic. It is also what enabled us to suggest something different in building our own temporary housing.
This may not be a traditional approach, given many areas are focused on building permanent housing, and while we are too, we also see the benefits of making sure temporary homes are right for people in the meantime. We also learned the value of effective and meaningful engagement. Anansi House is located in a residential area with schools nearby, so to allay local people’s concerns about changes to their neighbourhood we engaged with residents early on to seek their views, keep them informed and ensure the development would improve local places for both new and existing residents.
Through working with our partners, Wates Residential, we also delivered several community initiatives in the area, including training and development opportunities for local people. This helped us build a positive relationship with the community which has reinforced people’s perception of the development.
In November, we will start moving families into Anansi House. From there, we will continue driving forward our New Council Homes Programme so families can be moved into a permanent home as soon as possible.
We have come a long way, but there is further to go. With the eviction ban ending, the demand for Brent’s housing services will increase, but we will continue to be that much-needed safety net as we work towards creating a fairer and more equal Brent.
Hakeem Osinaike is operational director for housing at Brent LBC