Around 150 tenants forced out, in the latest chapter of the long dispute over the future of the Stokes Croft cultural hub.
Tenants of Hamilton House, including artists, community groups and social enterprises, are being evicted or moved so the owners of the building can develop the space into new flats.
After months of disputes between the owners of Hamilton House, Connolly and Callaghan (C&C), and the social enterprise which has managed the building since 2008, Coexist, more than 200 people with cheap studio and office spaces are having to vacate one of the three blocks of the building by 16 March.
Around 50 will be relocated to another block of the Stokes Croft building – but are facing a 50% increase in their rent.
The Cable understands that almost 200 tenants from both blocks – about a third of the total studio spaces – had already left Hamilton House by the end of January because of impending rent rises and an uncertain future.
Coexist, which created the space ten years ago, is now negotiating a new 10-year lease for the remaining blocks A and B, while having to contend with a 400% rent increase and lost income.
Building owners C&C are yet to secure planning permission for the block’s redevelopment. Their application to convert the space into flats under ‘permitted development rights’, which required less planning scrutiny, was refused by the council in December.
This came after C&C demanded that the property be vacated by Coexist in June 2017, but then offered a six-month extension to their lease on the building.
In September, Andrew Baker, C&C’s head of social enterprise, told Vice that “the occupiers will not have to move out of the building, and will not have changes made to their rents”.
A Hamilton House tenant, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to the Cable about losing her studio space after years in the building. “My job is under threat, I have nothing to fall back on because I’ve lost my space,” said the tenant, who has lived locally for 15 years and has two children to support. “I’m in the process of packing it up and can’t find another affordable creative space with heating or internet.”
The rent increases and cramming people into smaller spaces are already having an adverse effect, she said.
The tenant described what Coexist has created as “invaluable and intangible”, as rental income subsidises vital third sector services in the front of the building that are offered to the local community.
“Lots of organisations around here use our building for their services and courses. It’s so important to be able to provide low-cost, subsidised services for the people who need it most,” she said
“It’s a complete community that has grown organically from a seed. The people who need it as their lifeline are not going to be able to afford even smaller spaces.”
“With the rent increase of 400% for Coexist and the reduction of the rental income from studios, I can’t imagine how a not-for-profit business can survive and still be able to provide those services,” she added.
“There are so many self-employed people supporting others and, so if the spaces aren’t there to support that, that’s going to have an knock-on effect on the local economy.”
A spokesperson for Coexist said the organisation was “deeply saddened” by the loss of Block C in Hamilton House, but that they were doing their best to make the transition period “as smooth as possible” for those leaving or moving space.
“It represents a large part of the community here and we will feel the departure of our licensees.. However, we are working really hard to re-configure large areas of Block B in order to accommodate as many licensees from Block C as possible,” they said.
“We are currently in negotiation with Connolly & Callaghan to secure a 10-year lease for Block A on Stokes Croft and the adjoining Block B so we can continue to work with the diverse community that surrounds us.
“We feel that, as Coexist, we are helping to retain and support the community of Hamilton House, Stokes Croft and further afield by remaining in Hamilton House and continuing our work here.”
The building was originally bought by C&C for £2.1 million in 2004 and in November 2016, C&C triggered the process to sell the building, but then rejected a subsequent bid of £5.5 million from Coexist, as well as a counter-offer of £6.5 million.
The tenant said: “Community ownership is one of the things the Save Hamilton House campaign has championed and what Coexist had written into the bid to buy the building. The building could be bought for the community and, in 20 years time, the community owns it.”
“At the beginning there was a lot of energy as a community, but this was destroyed by all the ambiguity. It’s a real toxic situation that has broken a lot of people,” she added.
“I understand Coexist have been working very hard to preserve our community here but the eviction of block C and the impact it has had can’t go by unnoticed.”
A spokesman for C&C said: “Connolly & Callaghan are hoping to finalise with Coexist a 10-year lease for Block A on Stokes Croft and the adjoining Block B in the next few days, so that social enterprise at Hamilton House can be secured for the next decade and Coexist can continue in its work for the diverse local community.
“The necessary capital for this will be financed by converting part of Block C on City Road into much-needed homes for rent at prices affordable to ordinary people, primarily for those working in Hamilton House. These will not be luxury flats, and are not being built to ‘gentrify’ the area.
“Through hard work and extensive reconfiguration, the large majority of licensees from Block C who have asked to be accommodated within Hamilton House have been found space in Blocks A or B, and have been able to remain within the Hamilton House community.”