Black’s Blog: Do up or demolish?
Cllr Jimmy Black counts his profits
At this week’s housing committee in Dundee we had a big fight over sending a councillor (me) to Shelter’s Make Renting Right conference, at a cost of £160.
The previous agenda item had reported the successful sale of six council houses in Charleston, Dundee, for a total of £345,000. The story is that when I was housing convener, officers came to me and asked for approval to demolish six flats in a traditional tenement which were extremely hard to let. At least one was completely uninhabitable, there had been anti-social behaviour and a regular turnover of tenants. The block was structurally sound, but largely wrecked and was costing a fortune.
I have an inbuilt resistance to demolishing council houses, so I went to have a look. The block was indeed in a sorry state, on a path with no access for cars, but close to many other similar socially rented houses which were operating successfully. It seemed to me we were demolishing potentially good flats for management reasons. I agreed with the officers that these flats had such a reputation that the council was unlikely to be able to let them. So I suggested that we should sell them, and asked for costings and estimates.
The housing market was flatlining locally but we worked out that we could do these flats up, sell them at low cost and win a capital receipt. That’s what we did. The city council did all the flats up to SHQS standard, added carpets and decor, new kitchens and bathrooms, and put them on the market.
There was little interest at first and I went round with my successor as convener, Cllr John Alexander, and noted that little had been done to improve the environment around the flats to make them more attractive. So we asked for overgrown bushes to be cut back and repairs made to the exterior; John noticed a particularly horrible plastic screen which we had removed.
The end of the story is that we spent £150,000 to do the flats up; we saved the cost of demolition which was substantial; we made a profit of £195,000; and we’ll make a small amount on the council mortgages we offered. That covers all the wages, expenses and, notably, conference fees I have claimed since I was elected in 2007. Glad to give good value!
More importantly, we saved six flats from the hammer, provided low cost home ownership options to get first time buyers on the housing ladder and removed a blight on the environment. A wee bit of lateral thinking, by a councillor who had absorbed many ideas at many conferences, gave a good return.
Cllr Jimmy Black is chair of the COSLA/Scottish Government Homelessness Prevention Strategy Group, but writes here in a personal capacity.