Prospect House: What happened to the 'brilliant partnership'?
- Credit: Nathalie Raffray
Five years ago a formerly disused office block in Stonebridge was converted into 17 new flats for homeless families on the homeless register to great fanfare.
Prospect House, in the North Circular Road, was transformed by Brent Council, Shepherd's Bush Housing Association (SBHA) and landlord Ashok Vohra, owner Sonal Trading Ltd, and lauded as "a brilliant example of working in partnership with a landlord and a housing association".
Homeless families could escape the "squalid" hostels they were in, the council could reduce its housing waiting list, the housing association could help run it and the owner was given a grant from Brent Council's Empty Property Scheme to make it all happen.
But complaints have emerged about issues including electricity cutting out, taps running no water or cold water, poor ventilation a communal door which keeps breaking, unaffordable and confusing gas bills, and repairs not being made.
In November, the 15 families still living there, all of whom are on housing benefit, were handed eviction notices and have no idea where they are going and unable to bid on Brent Council's "Locata" bidding system for a secure home.
They say they are desperate, scared and clueless as to where they and their children are going while watching new private tenants move in.
Tenants have complained that the electricity often cuts out, ventilation is poor, the communal front door breaks and there are no lifts. They say there has been pollution, noise and infestations of rats in the car park where the children play.
L'Oriel Williams, who was placed in a two-bedroom flat in August 2016, said: "The building itself cannot hold the amount of people that are in it, let alone be habitable."
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Her son Micah, 10, has the neurological brain disorder septo-optic dysplasia and is severely sight impaired. Her four-year-old daughter Olivia suffers from rhinitis and is one of three children in the block with severe obstructive sleep apnea.
Mum-of-three Fadya Mohamed said in the summer the flats get so hot the children get rashes and that the gas bills have been high and "don't make sense".
Landlord Ashok Vohra, owner of Sonal Trading Ltd, said that repairs are done the "same day, 24 hours".
He charges gas by "bed spaces" rather than "bedrooms".
"The tenants were not charged for gas, heating or hot water for one year as there had been disputes after disputes about the charging mechanism even though the landlord has been extremely fair about it and yet the landlord is being demonised." he said.
He said tenants had caused damage and not disposed of rubbish properly.
"I really do want to help these kind of people but now it's too much," he said. "that is why we take this decision"
Mr Vohra said he will only take private tenants in future.
According to council documents, the flats are let to homeless families on a five-year lease arrangement managed by SBHA.
In 2017, Mr Vohra put in a planning application to build four additional floors containing a further 28 self-contained flats, which was approved by Brent Council in 2019.
Despite the fixed-term lease at Prospect House, the tenants do not have somewhere to live lined up for May.
A Brent Council spokesperson said: “We have been in regular contact with SBHA about the tenants at Prospect House whose homelessness ended under a private rented sector offer of accommodation.
"We have advised SBHG that any tenants who are not confident that they will be able to make their own housing arrangements when the time comes for them to leave, to contact the council at the earliest opportunity for advice and assistance.
"We're also in touch with the tenants and are very keen to work with any household in difficulty."
The spokesperson added: "As SBHG manage the building, any complaints about facilities are directed to them, and are not part of an assessment for planning permission.”
The housing association
Darren Reynolds, SBHA’s director for resident experience, said: "The landlord is responsible for repairs and has completed numerous repairs during this time.
"In some cases, it has been necessary for SBHA to complete some of the required repairs directly.
"Some of these repairs have involved the supply of utilities and where these have not been able to be resolved, we have arranged temporary accommodation while remedial work is done.
“Regarding our lease which ends in August 2021, we have contacted the tenants again to say that if they are in housing difficulties, they should contact Brent Council to explore rehousing options.
"We also continue to support tenants with finding alternative accommodation although we are unable to provide this directly."