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Bethnal Green home left empty for months to go to homeless family

PUBLISHED: 16:42 10 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:40 10 May 2019

Protestors outside 17 Robinson Road. Picture: Marc Lancaster.

Protestors outside 17 Robinson Road. Picture: Marc Lancaster.

Marc Lancaster

After three attempts to sell an ex-key worker home in Bethnal Green, housing association Peabody has announced it will open it to a family on the borough's housing waiting list.

After failing to sell three times, 17 Robinson Road is going to be used to house a homeless family. Picture: Ken Mears.After failing to sell three times, 17 Robinson Road is going to be used to house a homeless family. Picture: Ken Mears.

The decision comes after months of protests by residents, who want to see the two bedroom house at 17 Richardson Road occupied and rented at social rates.

Peabody said the move follows discussions with Tower Hamlets mayor John Briggs.

Announcing the decision a Peabody spokesman said: "After discussing 17 Robinson Road with the mayor we are happy to offer the property to house a homeless family from the Tower Hamlets waiting list."

"We'll still sell some empty properties where it makes sense to do so and we'll keep working to deliver much needed new social rented homes in the borough."

Protesters' posters on the window of 17 Robinson Road. Picture: Ken MearsProtesters' posters on the window of 17 Robinson Road. Picture: Ken Mears

Originally built for key workers such as teachers, firefighters and nurses, 17 Robinson Road was let at market rate after Peabody bought the property from the Crown Estate in 2011.

It has been empty for at least ten months, ever since the last tenants moved out, said Tom McGoldrick, who lives next door. Peabody disputes that number.

Joannie Andrews, a Peabody tenant and chair of the Victoria Park Residents and Community Association said that she was pleased a family would now live in the home.

Will McMahon, director of campaign group Action on Empty Homes, said: "Robinson Road shows that community action on empty homes can bring results.

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"We congratulate the campaigners on encouraging Peabody to do the right thing."

"At a time of national housing crisis when we are selling off more social homes than we are building each year, we don't think it is right for housing associations to sell valuable social homes at auction."

Tower Hamlets had more than 18,000 households on its housing waiting list in 2018 according to government data - the third highest of any London borough.

While Mr Biggs opposed the sale of the house, he has maintained that Peabody has an 'a fairly impressive record as social landlords', citing investments in Tower Hamlets.

He said in a letter to the campaigners: "I feel, and have always felt, that the characterisation of them in the context of Robinson Road was deeply misleading in the absence of a wider understanding of their deep commitment to the East End."

At the same time the number of houses owned by the council has steadily declined. Between 2016 and 2017 alone the authority lost 190 properties, bringing its total down to 11,690.

This means that, while the borough has consistently been the top builder of affordable homes in London, it is increasingly reliant on housing associations.

Peabody has defended its record in the borough, a spokesman saying that it has only sold one property in the borough in the last two years and has built 131 new social-rented ones.

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