Council to transform Clapton bedsits into ‘thoughtfully designed’ flats for local middle earners

Gooch House. Photograph: Google.

Hackney Council is planning to transform empty bedsits in a Clapton tower block into studio flats for locals on middle incomes.

The 16 flats, which are currently in a “poor condition” and sitting empty in Gooch House, will be offered to residents through the Hackney Housing Company, which was created in 2018 to offer homes at local living rent.

Rents for the 24sqm flats will be set at a third of local incomes, with the average salary in Hackney currently sitting at just over £27,000 per year.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, introducing the project alongisde Cllr Sem Moema, his adviser for housing affordability, said: “I’m delighted that we’re aiming to deliver the next phase of Hackney Living Rent homes at Gooch House, with 16 much-needed homes aimed at local renters and offered at rates that won’t compromise their living standards or prevent saving for a deposit.

“By repurposing outdated bedsits that no longer meet today’s standards, we’re making the most of council assets to provide high-quality, well-designed new homes and creating a local housing option that’s unavailable in Hackney at present.”

The Mayor went on to pledge that Hackney living rent properties offer “longer tenancies, no unfair evictions and deposits of no more than three weeks’ rent”.

It is understood that the bedsits, which will be refurbished as “thoughtfully designed studio flats” by a local architect, have been sitting empty since their previous occupants were “decanted”.

A report on the properties adds that this was “due to management issues arising from a concentration of vulnerable occupiers within what is otherwise a family block”.

Due to their small size, the Town Hall is aiming to fit out the bedsits with “bepoke fixtures” in order to produce a “high quality living environment.”

Those already living and working in the borough will be given priority for the properties, with the rent levels designed to be attractive to those in “entry level jobs or essential roles”.

If voted through at a Town Hall cabinet meeting next week, the council will embark on a process whereby its head of regeneration James Goddard will offer a long lease on the flats to the Hackney Housing Company.

The directors of the HHC, which is made up of top-ranking council officers, including Goddard himself, will then have to approve the decision to acquire them.

Local authorities are not allowed to rent out their own homes directly at living rent levels under the law, and if in the process the Gooch House flats themselves are sold to the company at less than market value, permission for the plan will have to be sought from secretary of state for housing Robert Jenrick.

A number of other options for the flats were also explored by the council, including leasing them to Homerton Hospital to help with its staff crisis, though with the cost of buying and renting in Hackney privately so high, the hospital is understood to have been “not in a position” to embark on such an arrangement.

As the bedsits are stacked vertically, converting them into larger two-storey homes was also explored, though the scale of works needed to the block proved to expensive, risky and disruptive.

The Town Hall found plans to knock the flats through into larger homes “too costly, not meeting housing need and potentially impacted by the bedroom tax”, and rejected outright the idea of selling off the properties on the open market.

A council report on the decision said: “The existing units are not readily mortgageable and would therefore appeal mainly to cash-buyers and private investors, although the current economic climate, changes to Stamp Duty rules and uncertainty around Brexit has reduced the number of investors in the market.

“If the homes purchased by investors were then let privately, this is unlikely to contribute towards creating a sustainable community within Gooch House. Ultimately the council wanted to ensure that these homes remained an affordable housing option for Hackney residents.”