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Hundreds of Leith residents face eviction after charity decides to sell up

Hundreds of Leith residents face eviction after charity decides to sell up

A city charity that owns hundreds of flats in Leith has informed tenants they are facing eviction.

Around 120 flats, mostly on the city's Lorne Street, are to be sold off by the The Agnes Hunter Trust.

The decision by the Trust means that around 200 tenants, many of whom have lived in homes owned by the charity for generations, could be forced to leave the area.

Tenants say the news came as a 'complete shock' and that the trustees decision risks uprooting a 'whole community.'

Since receiving notification of the plans back in June, residents have begun work to establish a housing co-operative, the Lorne Community Association (LCA), in a bid to raise funds to buy their homes from the Trust.

The Trust, which funds a number of local charities that work in the homelessness sector, began emptying their flats earlier this year but called a halt to the process when tenants began campaigning against the sell-off.

A spokesperson for the community said: “Many tenants are elderly, vulnerable and living on low incomes and there are a number of families with children who attend Lorne Street Primary School.

"Even if we were able and could afford to move out easily, all of the flats are unfurnished and there simply aren't any unfurnished flats in Edinburgh to deal with the huge scale of this upheaval.

"We don't know where the Trust expects everyone to move to!”

Another tenant, Sharon, said: "My Mum is 81 and I am her carer. We've lived in different flats in this area owned by the Trust since 1989. These are our homes and this is our community. My mum is too old to move now. I provide care for her and support for my neighbours and my neighbours do the same for us.

"This is a community where we all rely on each other’s support and we all need each other. Being left without our network would have a massive negative impact for a lot of us and especially the older ones, who rely on this support. Who will look after them once the community is gone?”

The LCA housing co-op plan has won the backing of many local politicians including MSP Malcolm Chisholm, MP Deidre Brock and city Housing Convenor Cammy Day.

Meanwhile, the Trust has confirmed it will resume the process of evicting tenants in January, if the Trustees cannot be persuaded that the LCA can viably buy the flats at market rates.

The first householders facing eviction are those who have lived in a property for less than four years.

via STV via STV

A petition due to be considered by councillors next week calls on the council to do "everything possible within its powers, including financial support, to support the tenants to save the community and to set up a housing co-op."

In just a week, the petition has already gained more than 600 signatories.

via STV via STV

According to the charity's website, The Agnes Hunter Trust was established in 1954 with the purpose of making funds available for charitable use through income raised from its Lorne Street properties and other investments. The Lorne Street properties were built by Mr Samuel Hunter in the 1870s and were let by the Hunter family until they were put into the Trust set up by his daughter.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator website shows that the Trust has received more in income than it has spent in three out of the last four years.

In the last year for which it has published accounts, it spent £424,450 on property maintenance and issued grants worth £331,683 to a variety of good causes.

But the trustees insist that they must now sell the homes because maintenance costs have become too high.

Google map

A statement, released on behalf of the trustees, states that they originally planned to sell off the entire property portfolio in a 'programme' set to last three to four years.

It explains: “We are aware of the petition lodged with City of Edinburgh Council. The trustees are in discussion with residents and their representatives regarding their desire to look at the possibility of establishing a housing co-operative.

“In light of this, since the beginning of September, the Trust has placed a moratorium on any further notices to terminate leases.

“We have given assurances to Cllr Cammy Day and tenants that the Trust will give tenants and the council up to the 6th January 2016 to report back on the viability of and potential for a tenants' co-operative at Lorne Street.

“As part of this work, our agents, Rettie and Co, have issued a letter to all tenants seeking confirmation of their tenancy agreements and individual leases.

“The Trust will reconvene in January to reassess all the information available to them at that time.”

The statement also added: "There are approximately 100 tenants on short assured tenancies who are affected in Edinburgh and the Trust is in contact with them all to tell them of the Trust’s plans and offer information and support.

"They have been informed that short term tenants who have lived in a property for less than four years will be given two months’ notice of the non-renewal of their leases.

"Medium term tenants of four to eight years’ duration are being offered four months’ notice and long term tenants of eight or more years are to receive six months’ notice, extending the contractual notice period which currently stands for each lease.

"However, we are aware that everyone has different circumstances and we want to be as helpful as possible.

"The programme will start with tenants who have been in place for the shortest periods of time, so that tenants who have been there for longer periods of time will only be affected towards the end of the scheme giving them longer to make other arrangements.

"There are also a small number of tenants on regulated or assured tenancies. Their tenancies are not affected and it is the Trust’s intention to sell these remaining properties to another landlord in due course."

Speaking on behalf of the council, Housing Convenor Cammy Day confirmed he had already met with both the tenants and the trustees on two separate occasions.

He said: "I think it's been unfortunate that this has happened and I personally don't agree that it's the best thing for the Trust to be doing, however, that's the Trust's decision and I respect that. I understand the stress and the worry that tenants at Lorne are going through and I appreciate the support that they're getting in helping them to set up a co-operative.

"The Trust yesterday assured me that they're 100% genuine in trying to get the best outcome for the tenants, and if there's a requirement for a 12 or 18 month extension, they are interested in that, as long as there's a genuine commitment that people are looking to do this."

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The Fountainbridge Show package on the Lorne Street tenants included in this piece was filmed by Gavin Hugh and broadcast on November 9, 2015. It was added to this story November 10.

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