Combating Homelessness, Creating Opportunities, Promoting Change

Andy Winter’s Response to Vice Magazine’s Inaccurate and Sensationalised Article

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13May

There was an article published in Vice magazine at the end of last week that painted a very negative picture of BHT’s shipping container homes project at Richardson’s Yard.

Here I will put the record straight on a number of errors in that report but I would also urge you to look at the BHT website to see what some residents think about these homes, in their own words.

Rent and Affordability

The article suggested that the rents of £650 a month are “fairly expensive for Brighton and even more expensive for a homeless person in Brighton”.

Rent Levels: Clearly the journalist had not done even basic research. The average rent in Brighton for a property of this size is £802 per month and the median (the 50th centile) is £776 per month. Our rents have been set at the 30th centile, so they are in the cheapest 30% in the City.

Affordability: Again, if the journalist had done some basic research he would have known that housing benefit for someone out of work will cover rents up to the 30th centile. This is known as the Local Housing Allowance.

The journalist got the wrong issue which is how rents in a high cost area impacts on people on low pay. Most people on low pay can still get housing benefit up to the Local Housing Allowance level, depending on their personal circumstances. In fact, 92% of all new claims for housing benefit last year in England were by people in low pay employment. The real issue is one of low pay and the lack of the development of affordable housing.

Heating: The heating is the one area where we have not got it right. The ceramic panels have not been fit for purpose which is why alternative heating solutions were made available to tenants, why we provided some free electricity to residents at the coldest point of the winter, and why we reduced the cost of heating to residents by one sixth of the market cost.

Anti-social behaviour and security

The report quotes a resident saying the “lack of security is pretty scary and I know people who are genuinely afraid to come out of their houses”.

Anti-social behaviour and lack of security: There have been a very few number of incidents that have been reported to us and we have taken robust management action to address this by BHT’s housing officers. Section 21 Notices have been served on tenants whose visitors have caused the problems and there have not been any recent reports of anti-social behaviour.

In fact the journalist himself reported that “Eventually I went to bed sleeping soundly as a guest in one of the containers. The night passed without incident”.

In a recent survey of residents, the two issues that residents identified as being a problem for them were rubbish and litter because the bins are not always emptied by the Council and, secondly, the high level of media attention! I must take personal responsibility for the high level of media attention, which I encouraged for several months but I have heard the disquiet from a minority of residents.

Drugs: A resident is quoted as saying: “There’s a lot of drugs here. There’s been violence. And there has been no real attempt by Brighton Housing Trust to address it”.

I spoke to the resident myself a couple of weeks ago who said to me that, as his flat is on the fifth floor, he hasn’t actually seen any of these problems. There has been one allegation of drug dealing that has been raised, when a non-resident tried to sell drugs on the site. I spoke to the police about this. BHT’s policy is to have no tolerance for drug dealing at any of our properties and, in our recent survey, this approach has been endorsed by the majority of residents at Richardson’s Yard.

Profiteering

The article quotes another resident who says that “someone’s making an absolute fortune here” and the journalist concludes that “the impression I got is that it’s less about rehabilitating long-term rough sleepers and more a get-rich-quick scheme”.

QED have invested over £900,000 in the development. Over the five years that this development will be in place, QED’s profit will be less than £36,000, or a return of less than 4%. The figure of £1.4 million quoted by the journalist for the amount that QED “could have netted” is about half a million Pounds off the mark.

BHT will generate income of about £100,000 per annum which covers our housing management costs, maintenance responsibilities, any time a flat is empty, bad debts, the replacement and damage to furniture and fittings. If we are efficient we will make a small surplus of less than £10,000 each year, if not, we might make a small loss.

Conclusion

I was more saddened by the article than angry.

It took a number of cheap shots based on a lack of research, inaccuracies and sensational reporting. The article was right to highlight the chronic housing shortage in Brighton and Hove, but did not recognise the small yet positive contribution this housing scheme is making.

I am proud to be part of one of the most positive housing initiatives in the City in many years.

My last word goes to residents: over 80% of them in our survey saying they liked having their own front door, their own kitchen and their own shower / toilet facilities, something many of them had not had for a number of years.

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