By Kris Jepson
Residents living in the former County Durham mining village, Horden, have told ITV News they have battled with Accent housing association to get repairs and improvements on the village’s oldest terraced houses for years and claim the community is broken after Accent withdrew a renovation programme and started selling off its properties.
In the last year Accent has sold 166 properties in Horden village, generating £2.8m. This money has been reinvested into places where it claims there is more “demand for social housing”, like Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire.
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Accent invested £9m in its properties in Easington Colliery and modernising its bungalows in Horden, but it withdrew an improvement programme on Horden’s terraced houses, on what is known locally as the "numbered streets", claiming it was “unable to deliver these improvements”.
"It is sheer neglect. Accent walked away, no regard for anything at all, other than the money they’ve got in the bank. Not enough of that has been put back into the village to make it a place where people want to live. The village is just dying and we’re stuck with it. There is no way out”
Mrs Barnett claims residents now have to live with empty boarded up houses, fly-tipping and vermin, saying "this is a common site, broken glass, rubbish, dumped everywhere. How can people put up with it? How can they live like this?
"It attracts the rats and they’re not little, they are big. It's just awful, and people are crying out for property? I don’t understand this world".
Accent told ITV News the properties in question on the numbered streets saw a “huge decline in demand”, due partly to the “bedroom tax” and partly to them being "unsuitable for families”.
Accent says despite trying to let the empty homes, they were “not sustainable”. Each empty property, they say, cost them “£600k a year”. It suggested more “significant long-term investment” is needed locally and nationally in “transport, the economy and jobs” to make Horden the thriving community it once was and suggest it, as a single housing association, cannot address this alone.
For one Accent tenant, ‘Emily’, things got desperate last year for her. She wanted to remain anonymous.
"You end up here because you have very poor income. To feel like this is the best that is ever going to happen to me and it is futile, is this where it ends? You become suicidal, that’s happened. All your life and is this what it comes to? You can’t see a way out and don’t have comfort, it’s not good, not good at all. Accent have no moral responsibility and they have totally let people down, I don’t believe we are people. I believe we are just a money source. We are just a way of getting money, which they can spend elsewhere. It goes beyond letting us down. It’s just disgusting".
Accent claims there are currently “no unresolved complaints” from its Horden residents and declare it is a “not for profit” organisation, which uses the money to "meet housing need” elsewhere.
Steve Litt paid a private landlord £30,000 for his property last year.
When he moved in, he realised similar Accent properties in the area had been sold for half the price, though Accent contend the properties were sold at market value.
When Mr Litt saw the condition of some of Accent’s properties he says he was disgusted.
“People were living in houses with great big holes in the roofs and water pouring in. Asbestos in their homes as well. They shouldn’t be living with asbestos. People have just been so let down. Accent did nothing. Instead they got rid of the houses".
Accent told ITV News all its current properties have "recently been surveyed” for things like asbestos and where “key components” like “bathrooms and kitchens” need replacing, they will be included in this year’s "investment programme” in “full consultation with residents".
But Steve fears its all too late for the properties sold to absentee landlords, who he claims bought houses to make quick money.
“What people have done is they’ve paid £10,000 for them, they’ve gone in and they’ve put a bit of paint on the walls. They’re putting people in there from the DSS side of it, so they’ve got a guaranteed amount of money coming in anyway, and then sold them in London for £30,000, so they were just in it for the money. They didn’t improve the house, they didn’t make it a better place to live".