This comment has been written by Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) in response to the ongoing dispute with Acorn Community Union over C&C’s emergency accommodation provision:
Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) has provided a safety net for homeless people since the Thatcher era. In the days when providers offered a bed in a dormitory (from which people were ejected each morning to roam the streets with their belongings), C&C gave people their own rooms where they could stay all day.
Sadly, demand for our services is increasing faster than we can convert empty buildings into homes. This drove our decision to buy Carpenter’s House – the first time we have bought an existing block of flats. It was offered with vacant possession. When this turned out not to be the case, we handled giving notice seeking possession with care, including providing a dedicated staff member to help tenants find suitable accommodation, paying back deposits regardless of arrears, and paying deposits on new accommodations. We have not forcibly evicted anyone, and as far as we are aware have not made anyone homeless.
We have met twice with ACORN members and tried several times to talk on the ‘phone. We have invited its members to view our maintenance logs and visit the common areas of our accommodation. We also offered to sign the Ethical Lettings Charter, to which ACORN organiser, Nick Ballard, commented: “It is doubtful whether the Ethical Lettings Charter is suitable for an organisation such as Connolly & Callaghan (being aimed at PRS landlords and letting agents rather than providers of emergency accommodation)”. Now that Bristol City Council has adopted the Charter, we will review our efforts to sign.
The dramatic allegations of sub-standard accommodation are unfounded. As a front-line 24/7 service, dealing with around six maintenance issues daily, our time to complete repairs averages five working hours, with health and safety receiving priority. However, we are not complacent. We have sought feedback from agencies, including meeting with Shelter, who clarified we have addressed maintenance issues. We are acting on their recommendations to review disabled access in some properties, and improve communications with residents.
We are proud of our dedicated staff, some of whom have experienced homelessness themselves. We accommodate the statutory homeless on behalf of government agencies and our accommodation is open to inspection by those agencies at all times, including environmental health and safeguarding teams. As the third cheapest provider, we are currently working with BCC to explore reducing costs.
C&C invests any profits into finding solutions to the housing crisis and other social issues. We have created over 300 homes from derelict sites, including award-winning eco homes. Also, we support Coexist in creating over 200 jobs in our property, Hamilton House, by offering flexible, low-cost rental to charities and small businesses. Further, we are collaborating with community housing groups, including Community Land Trust and Abolish Empty Office Buildings, to make housing both affordable to buy and to run. Let’s work together to solve the housing crisis.