Larger homeless families could be split up and forced to live in separate flats in a converted office block as part of a rehoming initiative introduced by Croydon Council.
The local authority is to convert an office block in Norbury into 149 self-contained flats in an attempt to counter the rising number of families with children living in bed and breakfasts (B&B).
The move comes despite the council’s pledge to stop the converting of offices into flats without planning permission – known as permitted development – last month.
Furthermore, the proposed flats in the seven-storey office block in Windsor House fall below space standards set out by the Mayor of London.
Sara Cope, 35, a mother-of-three who lived in various B&Bs before moving into temporary accommodation, told EastLondonLines: “It’s all well and good finding homes for desperate families, but at the end of the day, cutting corners won’t solve the problem.”
“Housing in London isn’t affordable for low income families with lots of kids and that’s the bottom line,” she added.
Jad Adams, chair of Nightwatch, a charity in Croydon aimed at helping the homeless, told EastLondonLines: “While not ideal housing for families, we have to look at this form of accommodation in light of the current housing crisis.
“The alternative for these families is a lifetime in bed and breakfast accommodation which is a much worse environment in which to bring up children,”.
“While other accommodation is being built, I am afraid this is the best that homeless families are going to get,” he said.
According to a report published this week, the council had requested larger flats but the landlord said this was “financially unviable”.
At a cabinet meeting on October 19, Councillor Alison Butler, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Homes, Regeneration & Planning in Croydon, proposed the plans, stating it was not the “preferred option” to the housing crisis, which has seen the number of people in borough registering as homeless nearly double in the last decade.
She recently described the cramped flats used by the council as “the slums of the future”.
The council currently houses 52 families in Sycamore House and 94 in Concord House, Thornton Heath.
Both were set up under permitted development, which Croydon Council claimed could lead to “substandard” homes that fail to meet minimum space requirements. Some units were only 14 square metres, which is less than half the recommended size of 37 square metres.
Butler, who has previously defended the use of Sycamore and Concord as “a very difficult decision”, told the cabinet that people are happy with their accommodation despite the cramped conditions.
“Although we’re keeping the problem level, it’s certainly not enough,” she said.
The planned development will provide 149 apartments: 140 studio apartments, two two-bed and seven three-bed flats. Each flat will contain a shower room and kitchenette and come furnished with a single and a pair of bunk beds. This means that families with more than 3 children will be forced to separate.
Speaking to EastLondonLines after the meeting, father-of-two Ben Ewin, 47, from Norbury, said he hoped the council would see this as an opportunity to help families stranded in B&Bs.
“Stowing these families away in miscellaneous B&Bs out of sight and out of mind has to stop,” he added.
The use of Windsor House is designed to ease the council’s reliance on such accommodation.
Adams says that converting offices is just one action the council can take to address the shortage of living space.
“Homeless families have less space here than they would in conventional council housing, but council housing is not available,” he said.
“The council therefore has to work with what it currently has.”