Council’s help for Wokingham family featured in BBC show

Michelle Ackerley is the presenter of Council House Crackdown. The BBC show featured a Wokingham family who had been helped by Wokingham Housing

A BBC documentary focusing on people who abuse council homes had a good news story to tell, thanks to a Wokingham housing company.

The daytime programme Council House Crackdown last week featured the story of Emma Jones and her family after they moved into Phoenix Avenue earlier this year.

And unlike many of the stories featured in the programme, this was not about benefit fraud or illegal sub-letting but about how the council’s housing policies are helping residents get into quality accommodation.

The development is managed by Wokingham Borough Council-owned company Wokingham Housing Ltd (WHL), who said they were proud to feature in the programme.

The feature focuses on families who struggle to afford rent.

The documentary said that Emma Jones and partner lived in a relative’s converted garage, but that had to change when they had a baby.

Her bedroom was smaller than a box room, had no windows and included the home’s fuse boxes

“It’s horrible knowing that you’ve got this little person that’s fully dependent on you and you’re not giving them what they need,” Ms Jones told the programme.

The working couple initially felt that they couldn’t turn to the council for help, but joined the social housing list. They were visited for an assessment.

Ms Jones said: “The lady from Wokingham Borough Council was quite shocked to see what we were living in.”

The family were treated as priority case and now live in Phoenix Avenue, built on the site of the former Eustace Crescent.

The family is paying an intermediate rent, which is typically set at 80% of market rent levels. The company said that this enables people that would not normally get an offer of accommodation, because their circumstances would not give them as much priority as say someone who is homeless, but who  need a little bit of help to afford decent housing in the Borough.

Ms Jones said: “I was so overwhelmed… I didn’t think that nice houses like this were available via the council.

“All I kept thinking was Sophie’s going to have a bedroom with a window that we can open up, she’s going to have light.

“Now she has what she needs, it’s healthier for her, it’s better.

“Because of the council, they’ve given to us, and we’re just so grateful.”

Presenter Michelle Ackerley said: “The impact a decent, affordable home can have on a young family is life-changing.”

WHL Managing Director, Bill Flood also featured on the programme and spoke of the importance of local authorities intervening in the housing market.

He said: “Market solutions do not provide homes that are affordable for a significant number of local people, especially in areas of exceptionally high property prices like Wokingham Borough.

“In instances such as Phoenix Avenue, Wokingham Borough Council are able to subsidise affordable housing through the provision of free land and financial subsidy in the form of capital to enable developments like these to happen.”

And speaking afterwards, Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Housing, said: “We recognised that Wokingham Borough needed more affordable housing and set up our council owned Housing Companies a couple of years ago to help increase the supply.

“I am pleased that they are now producing significant numbers of high quality affordable houses, such as those in Phoenix Avenue, to help residents, such as Emma and her family, get a home of their own.”

The episode (series 4, episode 5) of Council House Crackdown is available to view on BBC iPlayer until October 12 at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

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