Activists and neighbours are speaking out against Hackney Council after demolition commenced at Marian Court despite a family with young children still living on the block.
In response to widespread concern shared on social media, the Town Hall stressed that the initial demolition “will not impact the building where the last remaining family on the estate is still choosing to live”.
It said health and safety assessments have been undertaken to ensure that no health risks are posed to the family by the works.
Campaign group Sisters Uncut has heavily criticised the council’s response, pointing to the asthma suffered within the family as the demolition continues.
The council maintains that the family is “choosing” to stay in the block and has keys for a tenancy elsewhere, but Sisters Uncut pointed to pictures seen by the Citizen of the alternative property which show unfinished flooring, areas of bare concrete wall with nails sticking out, and signs of damp.
A spokesperson for the group, which is supporting the family, said: “We are appalled by the council’s patronising and hostile response.
“It is insulting to suggest that the family has chosen to stay in a derelict estate rather than move to a suitable property. The family are desperate to move. But the truth is the new property the council has offered is currently not habitable or safe for children.
“It needs significant repair work before it’s ready to move into. The council agreed to do these works months ago but has failed to even start on them. That’s clearly the fault of the council, not the family. It’s time Hackney stepped up and took responsibility.”
Hackney Council @hackneycouncil is demolishing Marian Court without rehousing the last of its occupants and her young family! Please share tagging @HackneyCouncil and write to your local representative at https://t.co/rAhP9KDApK #justice4hackneyresidents #hackneyisbuilding pic.twitter.com/epwcWPqKxK— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) February 17, 2021
The Town Hall wrote on Twitter that the work to complete the home on offer to ensure it “meets the standards we expect of all social housing in Hackney” would take place “whenever they want to move in”.
It added that currently unfinished work to extend the property to allow more space for the whole family will only able to take place when the borough is certain the home will be taken up.
Sisters responded: “How are you seriously trying to blame the family for the fact that you haven’t done any of the works to make the new property habitable and fit to move in? You haven’t started the works – it’s been months – this is on you.”
The Town Hall aims to build 275 new homes to replace Bridge House and Marian Court, and maintain that work must go forward despite the family’s presence, who the local authority says has been “aware of the timescales”.
The family is one of many who were placed in vacant homes at Marian Court by the council in order that the empty buildings could be used while plans for the estate were finalised, and to ensure families could remain in the borough and not be placed in hostel accommodation while the Town Hall found them permanent homes.
As worries began to be raised on behalf of the remaining family last week, the Town Hall responded on social media: “This family has had a permanent social rent home in Hackney since October. Delaying work will stop us building 32 new council homes for others on our housing list who deserve the same opportunity. The work taking place now does not pose a health risk.”
In emails sent in early January and shared with the Citizen, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville had said that he was “of course concerned” to hear about the issues raised by the family, including “the timing of the demolition work on the estate, the impact on your block and home, the rodent infestation, the process for the removal of asbestos and the continued supply of essential utilities to your block”.
It is understood the borough leader asked officers at the time to investigate and pledged to provide “a detailed response” to the family as soon as the necessary information was available.
An update released on the council’s website reads: “This family has been a permanent tenant of a home in Stoke Newington since October 2020 which they are already able to live in.
“This follows a long period of working with them to find a property that both met their needs and which they would be happy to move into, meeting our commitment made in March 2018 to move families in temporary accommodation at Marian Court directly into permanent social housing in Hackney.
“This new permanent home fully meets both the needs of the family and the standards we would expect for all social housing in the borough, and has been available to move into since the tenancy agreement was signed in October.
“In this case, recognising the disruption this family has faced while in temporary accommodation, we as a gesture of goodwill offered to go beyond the usual specification for social housing to make changes to the property at their request.
“Unfortunately, the extent of improvements sought by the resident has changed significantly since a tenancy agreement was signed, and their failure to engage with us on the work they would like to see means that, four months after they signed a tenancy agreement, we are no further forward in being able to make these changes.
“We have a duty of care to all our residents and, with Marian Court bringing forward 32 new council homes desperately needed by other residents in the borough, it would not be right for us to delay these plans further.
“Living close to a construction site and in temporary accommodation is of course not ideal. We are continuing to support them to make the move so that they can enjoy their new permanent home, and we can get on with building more council homes to give other families that same opportunity.”