For years, campaigners have called for action to be taken over the flats at Earlham House and a recent sale of the homes to a new owner appeared to signal a bright new dawn.
But the tenants, some of whom have lived in the complex, off Earlham Road, for almost 30 years, were horrified to receive letters stating that they will soon receive notice to terminate their tenancies.
The letters, sent by Norfolk Property Management on behalf of the new owners, Bellgold Properties Ltd, inform the tenants that they have two months from their next rent day to find a new home before they will be evicted, so the new owners can take possession of the flats.
Tenants are told that, if they wish to leave earlier, then they can give one month’s notice from their rent day.
The letter also advises people to contact Norfolk Property Management, as they may be able to offer alternative accommodation.
Tenants were reluctant to be identified, for fear it could affect their chances of being offered housing elsewhere, but told the Evening News of their anger at the prospect of leaving their homes.
One said: “I have been here for more than 10 years and when I first moved in, it was immaculately maintained. But we have had a succession of owners who have not done so.
“The rumour is that this company are going to carry out the work and then sell the flats, but I think they will still lease them out, but for higher rents.
“The thing is, that I wouldn’t mind that. I’d be prepared to pay a higher rent, but I don’t seem to be being given that option. I’m just being told I have to go by August.”
He said he doubted it was possible to find a similar property with comparable rent anywhere in the city and said if he was evicted the only option for him would be to move in with other family members.
A spokesman for Norfolk Property Management said they were acting on behalf of the new owners, who had asked for tenants to be given notice.
Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green group at Norwich City Council and a ward councillor for Nelson ward, which Earlham House is in, said: “We were shocked, because this wasn’t what we had been expecting. There are about 20 flats there which are empty and I was expecting they would do those first and move the tenants into those while they did the other ones.
“I have been talking to the tenants, and, while some of them don’t mind that they will have to move, there are some of them who have been there for 10, 20 and almost 30 years.
“They are very worried about it. One lady told me that she is having trouble sleeping because of the uncertainty.
“We are having a meeting on Sunday and we are trying to find out what the situation is with their legal rights.”
As of May of this year there were 5,375 people are on the waiting list for city council housing and Miss Stephenson said she feared people might struggle to find property elsewhere in Norwich with rents as low as Earlham House.
The site has been caught up in controversy for more than two years. In 2009 checks carried out by officers at Norwich City Council revealed some of the homes were “excessively cold”.
In 2010, Norwich City Council served improvement notices on 50 of the flats requiring heating and better insulation, including double-glazing.
But the previous landlord, Relay Arch, ignored the order. The company was prosecuted and fined £15,000.
A planning application was approved last month to replace windows and doors, and enclose balconies at the flats, which have no central heating, little insulation and single glazing.
The flats, which at one point were up for sale for £2.35m, ended up in the hands of receivers before the Hackwood Group, based in Hampshire, bought it.
There are 84 flats at Earlham House, About 20 are empty and 20 others are privately owned.
Earlier today (June 6) the people of Bluebell, Dublin, mobilised for a community protest which prevented a local family from being evicted from their home. As a bailiff from the Dublin City Sheriff’s office arrived with his Garda escort to take possession of Darren Byrne’s home, they were confronted with a crowd of up to 100 local residents who were determined to prevent the repossession from taking place. Confronted with such a sizable protest, the bailiff beat a hasty retreat from Bluebell.
Darren Byrne, a lone parent, raised two of his children in the family home where he has lived for the last twenty years. Like so many others, Darren and his family have become victims of the economic crisis and the greed of the financial institutions.
A plumber by trade, Darren has been out of work since November 2008. Following his redundancy Darren successively negotiated a restructuring of his mortgage repayments, but then found himself unable to make these repayments. When faced with the choice of paying his mortgage or feeding himself and his family Darren rightly opted for the latter.
Despite Ulster Bank’s attempts to evict Darren and his family, they are determined to fight and stay in their home. In a great show of community spirit the people of Bluebell are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Byrne Family, and will continue to resist any attempt to force this local family onto the streets.
Speaking from Bluebell, éirígí Councillor Louise Minihan said, “Today’s protest was a great success with the local community turning out in large numbers to support the Byrne Family. The fact that upward of one hundred people gathered at the Byrne family home is testament to both the community spirit in this area and the high esteem that the Byrne family are held in.
“That the Dublin City Sherriff retreated in the face of today’s protest just goes to show the power of an organised and determined community. The Byrne family are determined to stay in their home and fight the repossession order. Today’s protest shows the local community is willing and able to stand behind them. For that the Byrne family and the people of Bluebell are to be commended.”
Speaking in relation to the wider issue of mortgage arrears and home evictions Minihan said, “Tens of thousands of families across the country are now unable to make their mortgage repayments. An increasing amount of these families are now facing the very real prospect of eviction, something which often evokes feelings of shame, embarrassment and failure.
“In truth these people are the victims of a morally bankrupt system that considers people and their homes to be nothing more than commodities to be sold, bought and repossessed. It is the bankers, estate agents, landlords, judiciary and politicians that oversee this system that should hang their heads in shame, embarrassment and failure.”
In conclusion Minihan encouraged other families to resist attempts to evict them, “The Byrne family are just the latest of a growing number of families that are refusing to go quietly into the night. They are an inspiration to families across the country who find themselves in similar circumstances. All working people are in this mess together. We have all been forced to pay for the bank bailout so why shouldn’t we come together again to fight evictions by those same banks?
“éirígí helped the Byrne family organise today’s protest and the community response was a powerful statement of intent. I have no doubt that other communities would respond in a similar way, but they can only do so if they are asked. We in éirígí are willing to do what we can to help families that find themselves in a similar position to that of the Byrne family, to assist them in building a community response to what is a community problem. Those who find themselves in such a situation shouldn’t hesitate to contact éirígí.”