Sunday, 16 October 2011
£150 a Week for a Small Brighton Bedsit: How?
He was thrilled, since, it had appeared that the Council, having maintained that they operate a 'local connection' policy, did a complete reversal on that policy for him, and not only gave him a hostel room, but, later in the year, a proper bedsit flat. Since then, he has been obtaining furniture and the like. The room is very humble - a sofa, a chair, a single bed, a small toilet and shower. It smells a bit, there's some damp, but he isn't complaining. He's still looking for work, but at least he is housed and has a roof over his head. He still finds himself going to soup runs occasionally and places where you can obtain food for free. He doesn't have a drink or drugs problem or what any diagnosed 'mental health issues'. He isn't a part of any hedonistic Brighton scene. Much like how he behaved in Brighton's hostel when he was there, and indeed, when he was street homeless, he is the kind of person who just 'keeps his head down' and gets on with life.
Anyway, why am I writing this? Well, when I paid him a visit recently, I was surprised because he told me about the place where he lives as I looked round his room. There are about 15-17 flats in the building, all owned by one landlord. His surname, as I remember, is 'Cox'. More than that I do not know. Each 'flat', or rather, dingy bedsit, houses one person, but the friend told me that if I thought his room was small, then, "I should see other tenant's rooms". The thing is, you see, that having looked around Brighton at various times in my life, looking to rent, I know that a bedsit of the nature of what my friend is living in should be about £100 a week tops and, for that, your studio flat would be quite immaculate. If I were an estate agent, or a landlord, I would be seeking about £60-70 a week for his place, having seen it and I doubt very much that on the private rental market, the landlord could get too much more than that for each room as they are so tiny. But that is why this block of flats is so disturbing.
My friend told me that all of the 17-ish flats in the building, of a similar size to the one pictured, are inhabited by mostly single men on housing benefit and Jobseekers Allowance/Income Support. In other words, in order to obtain a rental contract with this landlord, you have to be on JSA or at least be dependent on housing benefit, paid by your local authority to his bank account. Such an arrangement is, to my mind, rather fishy, since the landlord who owns this building of frankly rather grotty bedsits charges the Council £150 a week for each one. This is, at the very least I would say, double what he could charge, given the size of the rooms, on the private rental market. How can this be? I've asked the question before, but it has to be said, what are these cosy arrangements that Brighton and Hove City Council have with various landlords in Brighton and Hove? How do they come to pass and who sets the rates? Who is in charge of these affairs?
How can it be that a 'social landlord' can charge a local authority double or perhaps treble what he could charge in the private rental arena? Is the extra money some kind of 'payback' for civic action on homelessness and the housing of the vulnerable? Where is the justice for the tenants who, presumably, don't get much, if any, choice where they are placed by the local authority? For £150 a week, the Council could presumably pay a private landlord not in the social landlord Council network scene something less, or get something better for a 'client' for the same amount. Either way, while the residents are not really so much complaining, some of them do think that what the Council is paying the landlord of this property is rather steep given the quality of the accommodation. Most are just pleased to be housed, one chap I talked to there having lived there for 4 years.
Does being a 'social landlord' entitle you to loads of public money or loads of taxpayers money? Shouldn't tax payers be holding Councils to account that they should be looking for value for money from the public purse? Are these residents being exploited in any way because their position in society is vulnerable? Well, we know that that kind of thing doesn't happen in Brighton, but it is a possibility. At least one landlord who lives in Brighton today expressed what certainly seemed to be a gasp of shock at what the landlord of this bedsits property was charging, as the friend told him after Mass. Perhaps more people in Brighton should know of it.
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