Last year, only around 200 council homes became available to rent to new tenants, and the borough loses around 70 socially rented homes each year through Right To Buy sales.
Ealing Council is doing everything it can to address this by running one of the largest council home building programmes in the country. These homes take time to build and become available, but in the last five years, the council has started to build thousands of new genuinely affordable homes.
One major element of the programme is the regeneration of the South Acton estate.
The old estate
Many of the blocks at South Acton were constructed using non-traditional techniques and are reaching the end of their expected lifespan. Harlech Tower was chosen in 1981 to represent Nelson Mandela House in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses because, it already looked badly run down. Things have not got better in the intervening 40-plus years.
Refurbishment of these blocks would be very expensive and would require residents to leave their homes for a long period while the work is done. The majority of the old blocks have fundamental design flaws that refurbishment could not address, such as poor layout and orientation, insecure undercrofts, high-level walkways, and poor heat and sound insultation.
The only way to make best use of the land available is to build new, fit-for-purpose, energy efficient buildings. Extensive resident consultation took place prior to the regeneration beginning; in fact, it was one of the largest such exercises that the council has ever conducted. The overwhelming majority of residents felt that redevelopment of the neighbourhood was preferable to the refurbishment of existing blocks.
In South Acton, Ealing Council is replacing the outdated buildings with enough high-quality new homes to accommodate all current tenants and leaseholders, as well as a new generation of residents. The rents for the modern, energy-efficient homes are being set within the means of local people on low incomes.
Once completed in around 2029, the rebuilt estate will host around 3,400 new homes, of which 1,250 will be socially rented. There will be twice as many homes at the estate than before regeneration started, almost a third more affordable housing, and more of the larger, family-sized homes which are in particularly short supply in Ealing.
To build new homes at the site, existing residents have had to move out of the old buildings that are due for demolition. For almost three years, the only residents remaining in one of the buildings were Yacob Woldehiwot and his family. He was the leaseholder in 38 Carisbrooke Court, which contains 58 flats.
On 13 separate occasions Ealing Council offered him a generous package which reflected the independently assessed market value for his home, but Mr Woldehiwot refused to engage with the council in any way. The offer would have covered all costs associated with selling his home and moving as well as home loss compensation, and in total is substantially more than the open market value of the home. Instead, he repeatedly sought to delay proceedings as part of a campaign to force the council to pay over the odds.
The value of leaseholders’ homes is determined using the recognised Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Red Book process. Rather than engaging the services of an independent, RICS-accredited valuer – an essential part of the process, which the council would have paid for – he preferred instead to set his own unfounded and completely unofficial value for his home, initially of £1 million, and then £500,000 - which is still almost double its market value. The ten other leaseholders in the building were satisfied with the deal they were offered and moved out. Paying the amount he was asking for would have been an inappropriate use of public money.
His continued occupation of his flat, for almost three years after all other residents moved out, meant that the council had to keep an otherwise empty building safe and secure, to ensure his young children were protected. This cost thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money each month while he singlehandedly held up the development of new homes for hundreds of other families.
Shared equity option
In a number of media interviews, Mr Woldehiwot has claimed that the package he was offered would not be enough to buy another home in the area. However, like all leaseholders on the estate, he was also repeatedly offered the chance to move into a brand-new home on the estate on a shared equity basis, with the chance to buy the remaining equity in the future. It would not be a fair or proportionate use of taxpayers’ money to simply give leaseholders a new, higher-value home to replace their old one. It is reasonable to expect them to contribute towards the cost of moving into brand new homes which are a major upgrade on their old ones. There is no interest or rent charged on the outstanding share of the home.
Because shared equity uses public funding and is subject to legislation designed to ensure it is administered fairly, the shared equity offer only allows leaseholders to purchase a property with the same number of bedrooms as their existing property. Mr Woldehiwot’s property at Carisbrooke was a one-bed, but he and his family used the living room as a bedroom. He wanted a two-bed, which is understandable but not an option the council was able to offer.
That meant his home became subject to a compulsory purchase order (CPO). After several years of missed appointments and obvious delaying tactics, he exhausted the legal options available to him to challenge the CPO, and so ownership and title of 38 Carisbrooke Court have been legally transferred to the council. Representatives of the council continued to attempt to negotiate with Mr Woldehiwot right up to the last moment, but he chose to only engage with the media.
Mr Woldehiwot was removed from the building by the High Court on Wednesday 11 October by High Court bailiffs. He can now request 90% of the independent valuation of the property and compensation payments but has so far chosen not to do so. The value of his home and compensatory package payable can be determined at a Land Valuation Tribunal, should Mr Woldehiot wish to ask the council to refer his case for consideration. No request has been made to date.
Mr Woldehiwot was given plenty of notice to leave Carisbrooke Court before the planned removal by bailiffs and was aware which day it would take place on, but he chose to stay. To limit any impact on his children, the removal was booked to take place while his children were at school, but he called them home from school, so they were unfortunately present when he was handcuffed after attempting to assault a policeman.
Following his eviction, Mr Woldehiwot was offered the council’s full support with emergency accommodation, which he refused.