By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Lewisham council has been housing homeless families in a block dubbed a “human warehouse” that police received 600 calls from in three years – and where a cleaner found a decaying corpse in 2019.
The details of the temporary accommodation in Harlow, Essex, leased by the council from property developer Caridon, have been published in and alongside a review of how living in temporary accommodation affects children and young people.
The council leases 40 flats in two converted office blocks, Terminus House and Templefields House – the latter was the subject of a BBC investigation earlier this year that found drug dealing, violence and anti-social behaviour was “rife”, while homeless families were living alongside ex-prisoners and drug addicts.
It emerged in a follow-up report that a cleaner found a decaying corpse in one of the flats in June 2019.
Terminus House was also the subject of a report in 2019, which found crime had soared by 45 per cent 10 months after it opened as residential accommodation.
The flats, leased by Lewisham council, are all two-bedroom properties “suitable for families”.
The three-year leases end in 2020/21.
Following concerns raised by a Harlow councillor, a resettlement officer from Lewisham council, accompanied by the cabinet member for housing and planning, Cllr Paul Bell, inspected Terminus House in late January, a week before the Panorama episode on Templefields House aired.
The report states that at the time of the visit “there (were) no signs of antisocial behaviour (ASB) in the form of smells or signs of drug use, graffiti, urine or congregations of gangs”.
“Upon inspection of Terminus House, it was found the accommodation was suitable and more importantly safe for our residents,” according to the report.
There is no mention of a visit to Templefields House.
The report highlights two incidents where police attended Templefields House regarding drug use/intent to supply, although according to the BBC investigation police were called from the block nearly 600 times in three years and there were three police raids during three weeks of filming.
Caridon, which runs and owns the buildings, which were converted from office blocks in 2017 and 2018, has said it deals with all criminal behaviour “robustly” and that its accommodation was built and managed to the highest standard.
According to the council report Lewisham “is assured that the properties meet strict compliance and safety requirements”.
Terminus House is located in Harlow Town centre, whereas Templefields House, where the council leases 16 flats, is further out.
The council is in the process of finding more households to place in the flats in Harlow, as eight of its leased ones are empty.
The report acknowledged that a “number of reports of ASB” had been made about the accommodation – it states that, once reported, Caridon will investigate the allegations and “proceed with the required actions, such as eviction, or referral to the placing authority or police”.
The report includes the security measures in place in the block, including CCTV in hallways, fulltime security staff from 10am to 3am weekdays and 10am to 2am at weekends.
Terminus House has similar safety measures in place, according the report.
Cllr Bell said: “Like all London local authorities we are experiencing the pressures of a housing crisis with nearly 10,000 households on our housing waiting list and over 2000 families living in temporary accommodation.
“Where possible we endeavour to find accommodation inside the borough.
“However, due to high demand this is not always possible.
“We are working with the accommodation provider in Harlow to find permanent accommodation for these households near to where they are currently placed in temporary accommodation, as most have started to build their lives in the area.
“We are always reviewing how to manage the housing crisis but we will not allow people to be placed on the streets.”
Pictured top: Templefield House in Harlow
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