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Landlord of Hoxton’s New Era Estate explains why it’s being demolished

PUBLISHED: 11:26 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:38 19 January 2018

Olivia Harris.

Olivia Harris.

Belinda Lawley

The CEO of the charity knocking down Hoxton’s New Era Estate says it had no choice as the blocks hadn’t been “particularly well looked after” – and vowed to build as many “genuinely affordable” homes as possible.

What is genuinely affordable?

Sadiq Khan’s “genuinely affordable” model includes social rent homes, shared ownership and his new London Living Rent, which sees tenants pay no more than a third of the household income.

Dolphin Living stepped in to buy the estate after huge protests against the rent-hiking American owners in 2014, with Russell Brand leading protests through the borough.

The charity was seen as the saviour of the estate, but has now decided the only way to make all the improvements it needs to is to flatten it completely.

The 82 families on the estate have all been promised homes on the new build. According to the charity, 69 of the tenants – 80 per cent – backed the demolition over the other option: years of piecemeal repairs. No other choices were given.

While it is built they will be moved into Dolphin’s new flats in Kingsland Road, near Haggerston station.

Russell Brand arrives at the opening of the Trew Era cafe, a social enterprise community project on the New Era estate. Picture: PARussell Brand arrives at the opening of the Trew Era cafe, a social enterprise community project on the New Era estate. Picture: PA

Now Olivia Harris has told the Gazette the state of the estate left them no choice.

“The roofs and drains are the main problems,” she said. “It would have caused significant disruption to do all the works and, as a landlord, we have to replace kitchens and bedrooms.

“It’s an old brick building. If we undertook work it would have been the first major works in the lifetime of the estate. It’s not been particularly well looked after.

“Many of the flats don’t have central heating. A two-bed flat is the same size as a one-bed flat in the London guidelines. There’s no lifts, no balconies and no play area.”

Russell Brand leads demonstration towards Downing Street against the house price rising in the New Era estate.Russell Brand leads demonstration towards Downing Street against the house price rising in the New Era estate.

The existing tenants won’t be paying any more than they would have been had the decision to demolish not been taken, either.

When Dolphin took over, tenants had been paying 40 per cent of market rent. The majority were on assured shorthold tenancies and had no security in their tenure, Ms Harris said.

“We came up with personalised rent where we look at each household’s earnings and how much it needs to spend on living expenses other than rent and then how much remains for rent.

“Where we noticed people could afford to pay more we raised it more than the other people.

New Era Estate in Whitmore Road, HoxtonNew Era Estate in Whitmore Road, Hoxton

“A lot of tenants had been there for many years. We said: ‘If you don’t want to share information with us that’s fine, but you will go on to the higher rent levels. If you do share with us you will go onto a three-year tenancy.’

“It’s our intention to implement a similar policy going forward. They will even be paying less than London Living Rent.”

On what the new estate will look like, Ms Harris said there were numerous options to explore, with nothing taking shape yet. She did, however, rule out a 29-storey tower block like the one being built nearby, saying it would be “totally inappropriate”.

She said: “It’s very complicated. We need to speak to residents’ groups and meet their needs. It needs to be there for generations to come and we need to build as much genuinely affordable housing as possible.

“We know it’s achievable but it’s about balancing a few things to provide optimum outcome. We know there will be at least the 96 homes there are at the moment. In terms of what it will end up as, we have to look at how tall we can build it, and make sure it fits with other developments being built at the moment.”

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