A project filmed for a future edition of Homes Under the Hammer was officially opened by the Mayor of Ashford, Councillor John Link.
Christchurch House, in Christchurch Road, Ashford, was a rundown commercial property bought at auction by Ashford Borough Council in December 2013. The property has been transformed into good quality short-stay accommodation for people to whom the council has a homeless duty or have a case under assessment.
There are eight accommodation units (including a wheelchair-accessible unit) in the renovated building, with washing facilities, a communal kitchen area, along with storage space and a pleasant courtyard.
Traditionally, the majority of homeless applicants whom the council has a duty to house have been placed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation; not only is this costly for the taxpayer, with B&B costing the taxpayer an average of £60 per night, but it is a traumatic experience that takes its toll on the individuals and families affected.
The council has a proven track record of innovation in its approach to homelessness prevention, with its own social lettings agency, a leasing scheme and a deposit bond scheme enabling the authority to discharge its duty into the private rented sector. This power was given to councils under the 2011 Localism Act.
While the council may not be able to house all homeless applicants in Christchurch Road, it will save the taxpayer around £75,000 a year, meaning the property will pay for itself in a short space of time, after which the council will have a valuable asset. If the scheme is as successful as anticipated it may be replicated elsewhere in the borough.
Councillor Aline Hicks, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for housing, said:
“We have drawn on our experience to get a quality application submitted and have secured the best end result for those who will stay here, and for the taxpayer. We have made this building work for us and I hope that those who stay here value the quality of the facilities available and use this as the start for a better future for them. Homelessness is not something specific to Ashford, or to Kent, but we feel that this approach is going to be a win-win situation for everyone.”
Councillor Gerry Clarkson, Leader of the council, said:
“Innovation is one of the strongest suits of this council. We think in an entrepreneurial way, combining our skills and imagination to find solutions to challenges that face us all. Recent announcements by central government demonstrate that we can be relied on to deliver proactive solutions. Our can-do mentality as a council is making projects like this a reality.”