Revealed: 'Shameful' conditions inside Hackney homeless hostel owned by firm of top architect - where rooms cost £274 a week
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:58 15 March 2018
An award-winning architect is profiting from taxpayers' money operating homeless hostels where human faeces has been found smeared on walls and conditions are described as "shameful", the Gazette can reveal.
Housing firm Smart Hotels Ltd has come under fire for providing hostel rooms in two dilapidated buildings in Finsbury Park and Green Lanes to house destitute people placed by Hackney Council.
The company was paid £519,000 last year.
Images of Brownswood Hostel in Finsbury Park show rundown rooms, water leaking through ceilings, dingy peeling paintwork, and excrement smeared on walls.
The hostel’s boiler was out-of-order for days during the recent heavy snowfall, leaving people without central heating.
As criticism is levelled at conditions, the Gazette can reveal – as part of our Hidden Homeless campaign – that the hostel’s joint owner is a RIBA-certified architect, Chris Papaloizou.
He also runs a Highgate-based practice that has won plaudits for its luxury housing renovations.
When one hard-up Brownswood resident was told the news, he said: “That is shocking. I had an idea it might be a group of investors. That is irony there, you couldn’t make it up.”
Glossy images on Papa Architects’ website show its multi-million pound renovations of homes with saunas, swimming pools and steam rooms.
They are located in some of London’s prime postcodes, such as Primrose Hill, Kensington and Chelsea, and a luxury development in Hoxton.
In stark contrast, the Gazette has been told of shocking conditions inside Brownswood Hostel and Eric Hotel in Green Lanes.
One man living at Brownswood said: “The people that run the hostel only temporarily fix problems and that’s shoddily.
“Over one weekend, the toilet had faeces on the floor and walls. This should have been sanitised, but the poor girl that has to clean it was retching while she was doing it.
“It’s unacceptable that we are treated like this. This is not Dickensian times.”
A woman who lived at Eric Hotel after seeking housing support from the council when she could not find an affordable home, said: “I actually took a picture of human faeces in the hallway, and everybody had to walk that way to go out the door!”
Another man, placed at Brownswood in 2017, said: “It angered me that £257 a week of taxpayers’ money was being recycled through private companies for somebody being paid probably minimum wage to look after the place where I was having to step over urine in the corridor.”
Rooms with a double bed at Brownswood cost up to £274 a week, while singles are £175.
The company operating the hostels says they meet all statutory guidelines and are regularly inspected by the council to assess safety and suitability.
Companies House and Land Registry documents show Mr Papaloizou is joint owner of both Classic Hotels (London) Ltd – the company that bought Brownswood Hostel for £400k in 2002, and Smart Hotels Ltd – which operates it.
The businessman, who lives in an exclusive street known as Billionaire’s Row in north London, is also director and joint shareholder of Smart Housing Group, which lists Brownswood and Eric Hotel as hostels that it leases to councils.
Mr Papaloizou is also chairman, director and majority shareholder of Papa Architects practice.
There is no implication of wrongdoing on his part.
Jeff Collings, general operations manager at Smart Housing Group, said a new boiler has been installed at Brownswood and added that, while the incident of faeces smeared on a toilet was regrettable, it had been thoroughly cleaned up.
He said: “Because of the age of the buildings, these hostels do require regular repairs and maintenance, and Smart Housing Group continues to invest heavily in this across its entire portfolio.
“We are currently working with Hackney Council to demolish another older hostel in Seven Sisters Road and replace it with a brand new 35-unit hostel for the council. In this new-build hostel each unit will be fully self-contained, thus providing a much better accommodation experience.
“This is clearly a better way to move forward, but such large scale redevelopments inevitably take considerable time and money.”
Mr Papaloizou did not wish to comment.
Factfile: Should the homeless be housed in hostels?
The deepening housing crisis in Hackney has left the council reliant on hostels, with 784 households now living in hostel rooms.
But retired Whitehall civil servant Jonathan Stopes-Roe, 66, who lives next door to Brownswood Hostel, said this type of accommodation should not be used to house the homeless.
“On the whole they [Brownswood] seem fairly well managed, but the place is a dump,” he said.
“If you look in there it’s absolutely ghastly, the quality of the build.
“There simply is too much high-density HMO housing all crammed into this area. They should be spread out and put somewhere else.
“I know that sounds nimby-ish. But somebody needs to take a policy decision about the density and location of all kinds of housing tenures.”
Cllr Rebecca Rennison, cabinet member for housing, said Hackney was facing an unprecedented housing crisis and had little choice but to use of hostels.
“Hostel accommodation is often the only way to ensure those in housing need can remain in Hackney while they await a more suitable place to call home,” she said.
“We work closely with hostel providers to ensure they provide a safe, comfortable environment, and the hostels we use are inspected regularly and meet statutory requirements.”
* The Gazette’s Hidden Homeless campaign is calling for urgent action to tackle the housing crisis. We are calling for the government to invest in genuienely affordable new homes in Hackney. Please pledge your support by signing our online form and help us to gather 1,000 signatures.