St Helena Online

Tag: housing

Housing failures to be put to accounts body

A highly critical report on St Helena’s government housing service is to be reviewed by the island’s Public Accounts Committee on Monday 10 February, more than four months after it was quietly published. The service was declared “inadequate”.

Years of neglect and poor management have left many Saints living in poor and even unsafe conditions.

A survey found not a single home met basic standards set out for the government landlord housing service.

Officials have also allowed rent arrears to mount up by acting too slowly, according to a value-for-money review by the St Helena Audit Service.

When Andy Crowe started work as the island’s first Housing Executive in November 2012, he found that the living conditions of many islanders “never been” a priority for St Helena Government (SHG).

The cost of putting things right was initially put at £1.5 million – but then raised to £6.5 million when the scale of failings became clear.

Andy has now told St Helena Online that improvements are being made but the service is still too fragmented. The audit report said responsibility was split between three departments, leading to inefficiencies.

The survey he carried out on arrival found that:

  • Residents of 15 homes had to cross courtyards to go to the kitchen, bathroom or toilet
  • 35 homes lacked adequate facilities for food preparation, cooking and washing up
  • 50 had serious problems of damp and flooding because of poor land drainage
  • 15 lacked adequately lighting
  • Every home lacked an adequate electrical system
  • Lack of sockets meant excessive use of extension leads, creating a fire risk
  • 160 homes had asbestos roofs and some had asbestos guttering that was starting to fail
  • Most homes had metal windows that were failing

Key health and safety concerns included falls in Jamestown flats and houses at new Ground, gas bottles in flats and houses, aged electrical systems and an absence of fire doors in flats.

On the plus side, all homes had an adequate supply of drinking water and satisfactory foul drainage, and few had structural problems.

Minimum standards have since been introduced, and a 15-year maintenance programme drawn up to deal with a backlog of “repairs which should have been undertaken long before now”.

A qualified electrician has drawn up a detailed programme of rewiring and fire precautions.

The contract includes creating two apprenticeships, to help address a shortage of skilled electricians on the island.

The work will also bring water heating to each home.

The audit report highlighted failures in management of the service, including an absence of routine repairs and safety checks, but also some strengths, including fast response to problems.

A tradition of giving tenants free paint – but then failing to check whether they actually used it – has been stopped. The audit report said it was costing “thousands of pounds in paint and administration.”

In March 2013, a housing newsletter said 16 tenants owned more than £1,000 in rent arrears.

The audit report found “a long history of not tackling arrears until too late in the day”. It said officials were reluctant to take legal action because the courts had never allowed eviction for bad debts.

But a comment from Andy Crowe in the audit report was also strongly critical of a lack of help for tenants who got into difficulty.

He said: “The Welfare Benefits system is in need of reform because of the pace with which financial help is withdrawn from those on low incomes, making it impossible for some to pay the bills.

“There remain no money advice services, but housing advice visits have been made by the Housing Executive to tenants at most risk of eviction.”

Andy Crowe has now told St Helena Online that improvements are being made – but slowly.

“We are making inroads into rent arrears, tackling anti-social behaviour (mainly dumping of rubbish in stairwells and gardens), have a substantial planned maintenance programme in place, which prioritises rewiring, and have tried hard (but with limited success) to involve tenants.

“I have a local resident in post as a housing management officer and she has just achieved a merit for her first assignment towards the Chartered Institute of Housing professional qualification.

“That said, we are starting from an extremely low base and still have a long way to go.

“The service is still fragmented and so the background work taking place to create a viable and professional housing service is going to be critical to the quality of service in the future.”

SEE ALSO: £6.5 million needed to repair homes, says Andy

Well Andy, if the housing job doesn’t work out…

Andy Crowe: I don't actually believe I'm Napoleon, doctor...
Andy Crowe: I don’t actually believe I’m Napoleon, doctor…

When he’s at work, Andy Crowe is a housing executive with a strong social conscience – but on his days off, he is The Scourge of all Europe.

No one told him that going into exile on St Helena would see him leading a double life as a deposed emperor.

It began when he was asked to play the island’s most famous former resident, Napoleon, for a visiting BBC crew making a programme about the great man (meaning Bonaparte, not Andy).

That's one way of moving house...
That’s one way of moving house…

And on St Helena’s Day 2013, he found himself doing the Boney Boogie on the back of the New Horizons float in the procession – a mobile replica of Napoleon’s final home.

He also took part in the day’s Ladder Challenge, climbing the 699 steps out of Jamestown in full costume.

Andy tells St Helena Online: “I was delighted to be asked to play the role of Napoleon, but the really hard work was done by Nicky [Stevens] and the New Horizons team in coming up with the idea of recreating Longwood House on a lorry.

“The costumes worn by the guards were also brilliant. All I had to do was sit and look glum for a couple of hours – though I did break it up every now and then with the Napoleonic Boogie.

“And being asked by the BBC to take part in Andrew Roberts’ forthcoming series was perhaps the most surreal moment of my life.

Andy does the Napoleon Boogie. So that's how Boney passed the time...
Andy does the Napoleon Boogie. So that’s how Boney passed the time…

“I was the sort of person who feigned illness to avoid taking part in school plays.”

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, custodian of the island’s Napoleonic properties, said he was surprised and proud when New Horizons proposed recreating Longwood House on wheels.

The work was sponsored by Johnny Isaac and carried out by Charlie George. Sadly, the model will not survive to be used again.

Matt Joshua of Enterprise St Helena reported on Facebook:

Sad, but the awesome float is to be dismantled… I asked, as wanted to do a display with the front. But at least the materials are being recycled!

So could Andy now have a second job, doubling as Napoleon? He was quite taken with the idea:

‘It really surprised me that there were so few Napoleonic costumes on the island,” he said.

“I will only be wearing it for special occasions – more often and people will question my mental health.

“But the idea of Napoleon welcoming and posing with Cruise passengers is a great one. I’ve therefore offered it to New Horizons and Shape [the disability charity] so that volunteers can pose with passengers in exchange for a £5 donation to their good causes.”

SEE ALSO:
St Helena’s Day 2013 – in pictures
Napoleon rides down Main Street: St Helena’s Day 2013

Local firms to get chance to test ‘bamboo’ housing design

A public space area, as proposed for St Helena. Source: BAT
A public space area, as proposed for St Helena. Source: BAT

Island builders are to be invited to bid for the contract to build 15 experimental houses on St Helena, following an international design competition.

Spanish architects BAT have proposed creating bamboo plantations so the island can grow its own building materials, instead of having to import them.

Dried bamboo is resistant to termites, say architects BAT
Dried bamboo is resistant to termites, say architects

Concerns have been raised that the island’s weevils and termites would quickly destroy bamboo in homes, but the winning architects say it can be treated to remove its natural sugars, meaning the termites would not be attracted to it.

The scheme put forward by Spanish company Bilboko Arkitektura Taldea (BAT) also involves importing wire baskets to fill with local rocks to create gabions, similar to those seen supporting embankments alongside major roads overseas.

 

If an initial “exemplar” development at Half Tree Hollow is successful, the Spanish design could be used across the island to bring down existing construction costs – and not just for housing.

Andy Crowe, the island’s first housing executive, said: “I think it needs to be stressed that the ‘exemplars’ will take time to be produced because of the need to create a bamboo processing plant.

“I don’t want us to simply import processed bamboo and never get round to creating the industry, so it might be a couple of years away.

The architects propose well-ventilated homes that can be expanded easily
The architects propose well-ventilated homes that can be expanded easily

“In the meantime I am planning to invite expressions of interest from local builders to develop the first phase of 15 homes using modern methods of construction by a set deadline.”

Andy will report on the scheme at the annual conference of the National Housing Federation in Birmingham, in the UK, on 19 September 2013. 

He plans to tell delegates the new housing design could mean Saints no longer have to spend “a small fortune” importing building materials to build houses that can take 20 years to complete.

He said: “There was, until my arrival, no housing service on the island and there is no housing legislation. Until recently there was little planning legislation and so homes have been built ad hoc, without a proper infrastructure. Local builders are in short supply

“It may be the only place where British citizens still have to use outside toilets and live in homes without an internal hot water supply.

Click on the links below for more detailed information on the plans
Click on the links below for more detailed information on the plans

“The housing competition is a signal that things are about to change. It sits alongside work to masterplan new estates, in stunning locations.”

The UK’s Department for International Development has provided funding, but actually building homes remained a challenge, said Andy – and costs needed to come down.

In October 2012, St Helena Government disclosed that eight families were known to be in imminent risk of becoming homeless. It revealed the figure after one returning Saint made a public plea for a home for his family, after being presented with a steep rise in rent. 

If the Spanish design proves successful, bamboo plantations could be created around the island, alongside small quarries, to serve housing developments in St Paul’s, Alarm Forest, Longwood, Sandy Bay and Blue Hill.

Up to 350 homes could be built by 2022.

The architects say bamboo would grow on barren parts of the island, and could help other plant life to recolonise land that has suffered through destruction of woodlands in past centuries.

It remains to be seen whether the island can grow enough bamboo for houses and other new buildings.

But Andy said: “If we can replace flax with bamboo and control its growth (cutting it down to make houses seems a pretty effective way) then we can offer the island a new source of earnings and reduce its dependence upon imports – what a great solution that would be.”

homes, quarries and bamboo plantations 800Click the map to see sites for homes,
quarries and bamboo plantations

St Helena Government saved £32,000 by staging the architectural competition itself, rather than handing the project to outside consultants, said Andy.

People on the island who saw the proposed designs during the judging period said they made the most of the island’s natural resources – and respected its community culture.

Click the links to see the winning architects’ drawings (note, these are LARGE .pdf files):
GIVING IDENTITY_PANEL 1
GIVING IDENTITY_PANEL 2
GIVING IDENTITY_PANEL 3

SEE ALSO:
Hotel plan means ‘better homes’ for Ladder Hill Fort tenants
Housing boss sets out plan to tackle ‘years of decline’
The Castle confronts homelessness and over-crowding

Oil boom brings housing need on Falklands

The Falklands look set to get their own version of Bradley’s Camp, the temporary housing being used for airport workers on St Helena. Mercopress reports that a developer is being asked to build two 200-bed blocks of accommodation in Stanley, ready for an expected influx of oil industry workers. Read more

New homes add to pollution, says water chief

House-building on high ground in St Helena has contributed to a bad smell in Jamestown, the island’s director of water has reported.

Martin Squibbs was responding to complaints about the condition of water in The Run, the historic water course that runs through Jamestown from Newbridge.

He said: “The water is greenish, which means there is pollution up in the hills. That is combination of low rainfall, dry weather but also growth in the green heartlands.

“People are building houses up there now, and they are putting in septic tanks and so on.

“That’s contributed to higher levels of organic pollution, which is fine – our treatment works can deal with that.

“I have noticed the flows are picking up. That means it is raining in the middle of the island which is really good.”

Simplicity makes Ladder Hill life so beautiful, writes Doreen

Boy running, Ladder Hill Barracks. Picture by Guy Gatien
Jordan Stevens running at Ladder Hill Barracks. Click the pic to see more of Guy Gatien’s pictures

Doreen Gatien 100People living in Ladder Hill Fort have been warned they may have to move out in two years, to make way for a hotel. Writer DOREEN GATIEN, now living in California, cherishes her memories of a barracks childhood. Click here to see a gallery

The headlines coming out of my beautiful island are not very warm and fuzzy. Airport dust is one thing, the introduction of mobile phones is another; the diabetes crisis is shocking.

But to hear that the Ladder Hill Barracks community will have to leave is very regrettable.

At the barracks, in the before days
At the barracks, in the before days

I have barely heard more than a whisper, so I am unable to sense how my fellow Saints feel about all of the changes. I just know that when I sit quietly and think about them, I feel pretty sad.

Why are the Ladder Hill community homes described as “poor-condition”? Is it because some of the people still light a geezer for bath water? Or because there is no front door parking or two-car-garage homes?

Not having all of this is what makes living in Ladder Hill beautiful. My family and I grew up there and will always be so very grateful for it.

My mother has lived there for over 55 years. She was the cook at the Government guest house, Signal House, just around the corner.

She is the oldest person there, and has really felt a sense of belonging, sharing in neighbours’ joys and sorrows, and them sharing in hers.

Child of the barracks
Santara, Marjorie’s neighbor

She lives in what one of our friends from England, who dropped by one day when I was visiting at home, called “a beautiful little cottage.”

Why does Andy Crowe, the housing executive, have to “assure the community” that they will get something “new and better?” Why would the Ladder Hill community want “somewhere better” to live, or “something new and better?”

The very reason for wanting to build a luxury hotel in the historic Ladder Hill Barracks is the same reason why it will be a day of great sadness for those who are forced to leave.

For all, there are fond memories of being able to stand at the top of Jacob’s Ladder with tourists climbing the 699 steps and collapsing at the top; memories of the war cannons sitting on the edge of the cliff, the war tunnels, the forts, the Colonnade with its long stretch of storerooms, Secondary Selective School, the telephone exchange, Signal House.

My mother is elderly, but still has the courage to live alone. But I know that with her cheerful and contented spirit, wanting something different is the least thing on her mind, which is why she still lives at Ladder Hill Barracks today.

SEE ALSO:
Picture gallery: Ladder Hill Fort, then and now
Hotel plan means ‘better homes’ for Ladder Hill Fort tenants

Doreen Gatien with her aunt and mother
Mum, Doreen and Esme waiting for the world to go by. Click the pic to see more of Guy Gatien’s pictures

Housing boss sets out plan to tackle ‘years of decline’

St Helena’s new housing boss has written of his excitement at the challenge of making sure Saints can afford to live on their own island – a week after it emerged eight families were known to be facing homelessness.

Alan Crowe has started an internet journal about his new job improving existing housing, and “developing new homes and even new communities.”

But he promises he won’t be imposing UK practices when he arrives on the island later in November.

“The UK model has failed,” he writes, “with house prices way beyond the means of all but a few first-time buyers, homelessness rising fast and ‘affordable rents’ condemning many to the poverty trap.

“The most exciting part of the job is that there is a blank sheet of paper when it comes to housing legislation and housing management. St Helena has very little of either.”

He acknowledges that locals might be wary of an unknown face. “Who is this guy? How is he going to tackle years of decline successfully?”

The trick is to meet both local housing needs and demand for luxury accommodation, and managing land use, which affects prices and housing costs. “Shielding housing prices from the ravages of inflation is the way to make housing affordable for local people in perpetuity.”

Read the full piece here.

SEE ALSO:
The Castle confronts homelessness and over-crowding

Alan’s blog post has been re-published on The Guardian website, here.

The Castle confronts homelessness and over-crowding

A new policy to help homeless people is being drawn up by St Helena Government.

It will also confront the issue of over-crowding – “where this exists.”

SHG disclosed work on the policy after confirming that eight families on the island were known to be at risk of losing their homes in the next months.

It will follow the definitions of homelessness set out by the UK housing charity Shelter – which includes people who are are under threat of having nowhere to live.

“It will essentially support those who are, or are about to become, unintentionally homeless,” says SHG in response to questions from St Helena Online.

Part of the government’s strategy is to make more low-cost accommodation available, possibly by taking advantage of equipment used to manufacture temporary housing for airport construction workers on Prosperous Bay Plain.

“We are reviewing both the re-use of already-prefabricated units, as well as the prefabrication of further homes using this technology.

“This has been a learning opportunity for all those involved. This is only one of the avenues that we are currently examining for the provision of additional housing. No firm decisions have yet been taken.

“More generally, we are currently taking forward work on empty homes, of which there remain a lot on St Helena, and affordability. We hope to be able to report more soon.”

The proposed homessness policy is due to be presented to the health and social welfare committee in December.

SEE ALSO:
Paul’s plea for a home reveals eight families at risk

Paul’s plea for a home reveals eight families at risk

Up to eight families on St Helena are known to be on the brink of losing their homes, it has emerged.

But the island’s new airport workers’ camp could provide a way out of a looming crisis.

St Helena Goverment says it intends to create new homes with the equipment used to build the camp by contractor Basil Read.

The plight of the eight households has been disclosed after the Clarke Williams family made a public appeal for somewhere to live. “There are and will be many more in the same position as us in the near future,” they said in a letter to the St Helena Independent.

That view is apparently confirmed by St Helena Government, in a response to questions from St Helena Online.

“Records show that there are about eight families that will or might become homeless within the next few months,” it says.

The letter from Paul, Megan and Tracie Clarke Williams told how they were having to move out of their well-kept home as a severe shortage of rental properties pushed up island rents.

With airport workers swelling the island’s population, Enterprise St Helena has been running a campaign to persuade off-island Saints to let their empty homes for perhaps £6,000 a year.

Paul told how he had returned to the island to join his family only the day before they learned they would have to move. They could not pay £500 a month, he said.

“My wife, like the majority on the island who care for the elderly, work in the shops, sweep the streets, collect the rubbish, only earns £400 a month.

“Been to Social Services, filled the forms, going through the motions, talking to councillors, made countless phone calls. The response is, they have no houses for Saints, they are all under renovation.

“By 30 November, we will be out on the street.”

A number of initiatives are in hand to provide more-affordable housing, says the government.

“The government landlord has been in post for 18 months and is responsible for  Government Landlord Housing (GLH).

“During that period a GLH in Main Street has been converted into four flats, and at Quincy Vale, Levelwood (ex sheltered accommodation), two flats and one two-bedroom unit have been created.  Refurbishment of existing GLH properties is also ongoing.

“Basil Read has already constructed a significant number of pre-fabricated homes for their staff and workers, and SHG is considering the longer term use of this pre-fabricated housing.”

St Helena Online asked whether the equipment used to build the camp at Bradleys could also provide government housing elsewhere on the island.

The answer: “Yes, and this is the intention.”

A government property that stood empty for a long time has also been refurbished to house a family with a disabled member.

A “highly experienced” new housing executive starts work on the island next month.

Andy Crowe has previously worked for Southampton City Council and the Audit Commission.

The government has also published a housing strategy. In the introduction, it says that “a protection mechanism is required for the local population in the event that a property market takes off and potentially makes housing less affordable.”

A 2008 report on the airport scheme also recognised the risk of rents rising. It warned of “potential for housing construction to lag behind demand.”

SEE ALSO:
£48,000 a year for someone to solve island housing shortage

LINKS:
A Housing Strategy for St Helena 2012 – 2022
St Helena Airport: socio-economic impact assessment

Prison plans in hand as Castle sets out vital projects

Basic designs are being drawn up for moving St Helena’s “unfit” prison out of Jamestown. Planning advice is being sought, according to a spokesman for St Helena Government (SHG).

First, a new unit for young people with challenging behaviour must be built at Half Tree Hollow to make way for the prison to move into the unit’s current home at Sundale.

The prison building is to be taken over – aptly – by SHG’s legal department. The move is not expected before 2015.

The information was provided in response to a question by John Turner of the St Helena Campaign for Freedom of Information, after the government published an outline of various projects that are vital to island life.

The Infrastructure, Utilities and Construction Programme was drawn up with the help of UK advisers after SHG was rebuked for falling behind with maintenance and large-scale projects – partly because of problems finding contractors.

Executive councillors were given a confidential report on progress in early July, but said they wanted the public to be given more information on important works.

Three projects involve energy supplies.

Replacements for ageing equipment at the power station is now being tested, and a trial of photo voltaic cells – to harness the energy of the sun, and reduce the use of diesel – is being evaluated. Approval has been given for six extra wind turbines, and work has begun to appoint a contractor to manage renewable energy projects.

Several projects tackle housing issues:

  • encouraging owners to rent-out empty homes
  • finding sites to build homes for low earners
  • raising living standards in SHG housing
  • improving welfare facilities, and moving Barn View social care residents to the Community Care Complex
  • refurbishing sheltered housing at Longwood and building six new units at Plantation Cape Villa

The first year of the rental project involves identifying the reasons people are reluctant to rent out empty homes, and find ways to overcome them.

Work on government-owned housing involves clearing a backlog of maintenance, as well as converting properties and building new homes.

Infrastructure projects include work on electricity supply, including for the airport, and on developing a sustainable water supply – which includes providing treated water to all island communities.

Upgrades and renovations of the government’s property estate includes work to:

  • clear a backlog of maintenance of government buildings
  • build a new fire station
  • move government departments to free up buildings for the private sector.

No buildings have been let as a result of the government reorganisation in Jamestown, but a spokesman pointed out that the programme was at an early stage.

Another project involves setting up a sustainable system for waste, including recycling, prompted in part by a need to move the existing landfill site near Longwood to avoid causing a hazard to aircraft.

An adviser is currently on the island and a consultation is due soon.

The government is also redeveloping hospital facilities to cope with more residents and visitors, expected once the airport is built.

This includes providing better laboratory facilities for diagnosing medical conditions, and for carrying out tests needed to export processed food.

SEE ALSO:
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings
£48,000 a year for someone to solve island housing shortage
Government property for sale ‘effectively, now’
Jobs for island contractors after years of under-spending

LINK:
Update on the Infrastructure, Utilities and Construction Programme

Development Assistance Planning Mission
– UK report on SHG infrastructure delays

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