25 Feb 2015

It’s like Beirut’: the town where homes are on sale for £1

Scotland Correspondent

This is Horden, County Durham. Once a thriving mining community. Now emptied of jobs, and increasingly of the people who gave it life and soul.

Nearly 160 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up. The properties are managed by Accent housing association, which manages 361 social housing properties in Horden and Blackhall.

It’s just like a disease that’s spread down the streets Pat Barnett

The housing association say they have withdrawn of millions of pounds of regeneration cash – believing the homes cannot be let – blaming the ‘bedroom tax’.

Read more: has 'bedroom tax' killed off this Durham community?

They offered to sell 130 homes to Durham council for just £1, but the council said no.

‘Old western movie’

Michelle (pictured below with her family), who is one of the few remaining residents in the area, told Channel 4 News: “It’s a bit insecure to be quite frank. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

“It’s like an old western movie, just waiting for the old bale of hay to roll down the street.”

Taking us through the empty streets of Horden, Pat Barnett of the Horden Colliery Residents’ Association told Channel 4 News: “Awful. Foodstuffs, rats, we’ve had a plague of rats, awful, awful.”

Residents blame the housing association for letting the area slide and over a 100 more households are soon set to move out.

Ms Barnett added: “I think the quality of the houses has gone down, the Accent owned houses. The repairs, they weren’t doing their repairs. And I think people just moved out.

“And I think it became like an epidemic. Because who would want to live in that house with that house and that house and that house blocked up. It’s just like a disease that’s spread down the streets.”

Isabel Roberts, who has lived in the area for 38 years, added: “These were lovely houses. People wanted these houses. They were lovely and clean. I mean you can see a house there in the middle of it. It’s like Beirut. It’s absolutely disgraceful.”

Bedroom tax

However, the Accent group say the introduction of the bedroom tax has led to the town’s decline. Gordon Perry, Chief Executive at Accent told Channel 4 News: “[The ‘bedroom tax’] is a factor, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back if you like.

Durham council however say that even if the homes are bought for just £1, they would be too expensive to repair. The houses may now be sold on the open market.

“Previously we had 67 per cent of our two bed properties had single people in. But the bedroom tax means that’s no more affordable. £57 people get on benefits, that’s pretty difficult to live, if you’ve got £10-14 of bed tax on top of that, it means it’s impossible.”

This is a time where huge numbers of people are desperate for social housing. In County Durham there are over 11,000 on the waiting list.

‘Homesteading’

Last week, Easington MP Grahame Morris, called for a comprehensive revival plan, including “some selective demolition.”

But, in reply, housing minister Brandon Lewis pointed to an initiative, in Liverpool and elsewhere, involving “discounted sales to benefit local residents”.

The initiative called ‘homesteading’ – sees empty homes sold for as little as £1 to local buyers, sometimes with a £30,000 low-interest loan to help them renovate.