Former Lewisham pub could be used to house rough sleepers

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

A former pub in Lewisham could be used to house homeless people if plans to turn it into temporary accommodation (TA) are successful.

As of September 2020, almost 2,500 households were living in temporary housing across the borough – 760 of those were in nightly paid accommodation, the most expensive and insecure form of TA.

The average cost of a self-contained nightly paid one-bedroom property is about £5,700 per household per year, “although it is often significantly larger”.

To tackle this, Lewisham council successfully made a bid for funding to the Greater London Authority (GLA) through the Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme (RSAP) to go towards buying the Sydney Arms.

After it shut down, the pub, in Lewisham Road, was bought and converted into 16 flats, so is mostly ready to go.

London councils were invited to bid for capital funding from the RSAP to help with purchasing and developing buildings into longer term move-on accommodation for rough sleepers.

Accommodation provided under the programme will initially be for rough sleepers with a Lewisham connection who were supported during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The demand for housing assistance in Lewisham has increased in recent years and “remains substantial”, according to a report going before mayor and cabinet tomorrow.

The report, which recommends approving the purchase of the pub, puts the surge down to a lack of genuinely affordable homes, a decline in the available social homes for let, and a “severe shortage of available properties at London Hostels Association (LHA) where the landlord is willing to let to homeless, largely benefit dependent, claimants”.

The Covid-19 pandemic also saw an increased need to house rough sleepers because of the Government’s ‘everyone in’ policy.

Increasing cost and reliance on the private rented sector (PRS) and welfare reform, such as the freezing of local housing allowance (LHA) until 2018, were also cited.

The council has already negotiated a price for the building, which is not publicly available but “considered value for money on the basis that 16 households currently residing in nightly paid temporary accommodation can be accommodated in-borough”.

According to the report: “The building will provide much-needed, good-quality accommodation in the borough, which will be owned by the council and will benefit from the income received as well as from the saving on expensive nightly paid temporary accommodation.”

The preferred option for the council is to buy the building using borrowing and grant funding from the GLA, which is expected to be awarded in full “pending authorisation from mayor and cabinet, the council and the GLA agreeing terms and entering into contract”.

The council believes it “unlikely” the contract will not go through, but if not other options “will be explored”.

If all goes to plan, and after surveys and financial assessments, the flats will be ready to house people by April 1, 2021 – a grant condition from the GLA is that they must move in before this date.

Pictured top: The Sydney Arms, in Lewisham Road, Sydenham


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