TWO former office blocks in Thornton Heath are set to be leased by the council as flats in order to reduce the number of homeless families placed in bed and breakfasts. Concord House and Sycamore House, in London Road, would provide 189 flats for people in emergency accommodation if the plans are approved at a cabinet meeting next Monday. It is hoped the deals will make the council far less reliant on shared housing such as Gilroy Court Hotel, also in London Road, which has come in for high profile criticism due its low grade conditions and unsuitability for families. The latest figures show 513 families - or households - placed in bed and breakfast by Croydon Council. Though the number fluctuates, it has not fallen below 400 in the last two years. That could change if the deal to lease Concord and Sycamore houses for ten years is approved. Both former office blocks have already been bought by developers and are in the process of being converted. Alison Butler, cabinet member for housing, said: "This is a far better alternative to putting people in bed and breakfast accommodation. "The rooms households are placed in at the moment are far too small. You've got families living in a single room while having to share a bathroom and a kitchen with others. "I don't think it's suitable that families are being asked to share a bathroom with a number of other people, particularly when many of them have young children. "What we're proposing is have self-contained accommodation which would mean people would have their own front door key, bathroom and a small kitchenette." Concord and Sycamore houses would provide 149 purpose-built studio and 40 one bedroom flats. Eight of the flats on the ground floor of Concord House would be designed for disabled use. Similar conversions have been used by Hackney, Camden, Barnet and Merton councils. Research shows that nearly half of people placed in bed and breakfast accommodation are single parents. Conditions are typically cramped, lack privacy and are not suitable for families with young children. Croydon has, in the past, come in for criticism for its failure to get to grips with the rising number of families placed in emergency housing. In October 2012 a government minister branded the council "doubly illegal" after a BBC investigation showed 180 families had been living in "unacceptable" low quality housing, such as Gilroy Court, for unlawful periods of time. Measures introduced by the authority since then mean there are no longer any families living in bed and breakfasts longer than the six week time limit. The deal to lease Concord and Sycamore houses will not end the council's use of Gilroy Court, which has both self-contained and shared accommodation, but it should reduce the reliance on it. The council sad use of the two blocks of flats would save £2.5 million over the ten year length of the agreement. Cllr Butler said the previous Conservative administration had considered adopting the same policy but had been unable to find affordable solutions. "We've been quite lucky to access these two sources," she said. If Croydon's housing situation improves dramatically the units in Concord and Sycamore could be converted into student accommodation. The flats could be in use by the council by January 2015.
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