East Anglian housing association boss warns of ‘tough times ahead’ in coronavirus crisis

Jonathan Callum, a kitchen fitter at Flagship Group, delivering food packages during the coronavirus

Jonathan Callum, a kitchen fitter at Flagship Group, delivering food packages during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: FLAGSHIP GROUP - Credit: Archant

The boss of East Anglia’s biggest housing association has warned the housing crisis may deepen in the wake of coronavirus, saying there are “tough times ahead”.

David McQuade, chief executive of the Flagship Group, said that the company expected a greater need for its services in the period after the pandemic.

He said: “There was a tremendous shortage of social housing provision to begin with.

“The concern is the economic impact [of coronavirus] and any increase in unemployment or any recessionary impact, and how long that will last.

“We think that housing waiting lists and housing needs and the demand for social housing will be there and possibly intensify, depending on the economic backdrop.

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“That’s one of the reasons why too we want to get back and where we can build as many new homes as possible.”

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The group, which builds, rents and maintains affordable housing, has been disrupted by lockdown.

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One of the key areas of disruption for the group has been home building. Mr McQuade said: “We try and build about 600-700 new affordable homes a year.

“There’s been a significant impact for us in terms of the amount of new homes we’ll be able to build this year.”

“Since the government announcement on the March 23 we’ve moved into a situation where the broad range of services that we offer, we’ve had to curtail quite considerably.”

The company has stopped completing as much maintenance work and has shifted some staff to helping support their tenants through the coronavirus crisis.

Mr McQuade said: “We’ve moved to what we would describe as an emergency only service while also completing compliance work.

“We’ve shifted our focus quite a bit, undertaking a lot of support phone calls.

“We’ve phoned thousands of customers. Enquiring about their well being, discussing issues that matter to them at the moment, talking to them about their concerns and trying to offer support.”

Marie-Claire Delbrouque, managing director of Suffolk Housing — which joined the group in February — said: “We’ve tried to take a more pro-active role in contacting tenants who we think might be vulnerable or might need something additional during this time. Just checking in and making sure people are okay, making sure people know how to contact us if they need us.

“We’re working in partnership with some of the local charities and organisations to make sure people that are sheltering or self isolating, have access to food and fuel and medication.

“It’s really just been about us making sure that people know we’re here, that they know they can contact us if they need anything.

“What we don’t want is anybody at home, worrying unnecessarily during this time because we have staff on hand that can help if it’s needed.”

The group has brought forward the launch of an anti-homelessness campaign because of the virus.

According to Mrs Delbrouque, Hopestead initiative is “our commitment as a group to end homelessness in the East of England.”

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Mrs Delbrouque said: “What we’re currently doing is identifying tenants who are experiencing extreme financial hardship as a result of coronavirus and we are trying to offer either financial support or intensive tenancy support.

“What we have heard from our housing officers is that a number of our tenants who traditionally have been good payers — have either been employed or self employed — are now experiencing hardship and are finding themselves in a situation that they’ve not been in before.

“They’re absolutely overwhelmed and anxious, frightened about what that means.

“Hopestead is there to make sure that those people who are struggling at the moment have the help and support they need.”

The group has also doubled its commitment to their ‘kindness fund’ which allows housing officers to make gestures of goodwill.

Mrs Delbrouque said: “We have a lady who is 94 and her garden bench was vandalised and broken. At the moment she cannot go beyond her garden, so we arranged for a new bench to be delivered through the kindness fund.

“It really is for random acts of kindness, because that’s what feels like the right thing to do at the moment.”

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