Camden to provide safe haven homes for refugees

Work is underway in Camden to use its Community Investment Programme (CIP) to house Afghan refugees who have been living in the borough in Home Office-run bridging hotels since August 2021.

Camden’s Community Investment Programme is one of the largest and leading housebuilding projects in the UK and is delivering thousands of homes in the borough. Under the scheme, the council builds private housing to fund new council homes, school buildings and community facilities, due to the lack of funding from Government for housebuilding. Camden Council has always been clear that it will take any opportunity to convert homes designated for private sale into genuinely affordable homes owned by the borough.

In response to lobbying from Councils and refugee groups, the government has now made new funding available to help councils purchase housing for those fleeing persecution and conflict and seeking to make a better life in Camden. The funding from the Home Office – specifically designated for Afghan and Ukrainian refugee housing – has been allocated to the Greater London Authority (GLA) to distribute to London local authorities including Camden.

This new funding has allowed the Council to withdraw 41 homes intended for private sale and rent from the market and explore the feasibility of using them to provide safe-haven housing for refugees.

This would also mean the homes, which are in Highgate, remain as council housing stock for future generations and sit alongside a programme of housebuilding and house purchasing for residents. Camden Council has built over 700 council and living rent homes, bought back into use over 150 homes to house homeless families and has just launched a wider buy-back scheme to provide larger homes for overcrowded families on its waiting list.

Thousands of refugees arrived in Camden in 2021 and while most have moved on, some have settled in the borough with local jobs, training courses and education, while their children learn in Camden schools. Camden has a responsibility to find more permanent solutions for these residents to avoid the risk of homelessness which would be both traumatic and costly.

Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council

Camden has a long and proud history of providing sanctuary and care for those fleeing war and conflict.

“Over the last 18 months, Afghan refugees who risked their lives working with Britain as translators, doctors, special forces, civil servants, journalists, drivers and many other roles have been living with their families in hotels in Camden. We have lobbied for funding to allow those who are already part of our community to stay here and continue to contribute to our borough.

“This funding would allow the council to bring homes that would have been lost to private sale into the council stock to provide safe haven housing now and additional council homes for future generations.

“This sits alongside our commitment to buying homes for families facing homelessness in Camden and building and buying new council homes for residents living in overcrowded homes on our waiting list.

“Over many years we have played a vital role in welcoming refugees to this country and helped thousands of people move on with their lives. Some have chosen to settle here permanently, bringing new vibrancy and strength to our communities. Others have spent time here on their way to finding a longer-term home somewhere else. Whatever their path, Camden has been there to help and, as a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’, we have reaffirmed our commitment to support people who come here in the most desperate of situations. 

“Like in other parts of the country, we have a responsibility to provide more permanent housing for some of the refugees who come to the UK. This means we must use imaginative ways of managing, improving, and adapting our existing housing stock, whilst continuing to build new homes for our existing residents.

Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council

Camden confirmed its status as a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ for refugees though a cross-party motion at a meeting of the Full Council on Monday, 23 January 2023.

Support of refugees is very personal to Camden councillors. The family of Councillor Camron Aref-Adib were forced to flee Iran in the 1980’s and were able to settle in Camden.

Councillor Camron Aref-Adib said: 

I am proud that Camden is taking concrete steps to help refugees in the way that my family was helped and I am even more proud that this is taking place in my ward of Highgate, the same ward that took in my family."

Andrew Sanalitro, Director, Highgate Newtown Community Partners, said

"Our community centre and partners will be delighted to welcome the new residents into the heart of our community and to involve them in our programme of activity in any ways that can support them to settle and thrive. This will be an exciting and positive development for our neighbourhood."

Laurel Robin, Headteacher at Brookfield Primary School, said: 

“Brookfield Primary School is proud to be a diverse, inclusive and supportive school, we are all richer for the range of experiences and lives of our children, families and staff. Our vision is to inspire the best in everyone through achievement, kindness and responsibility – we are excited to welcome new children to Brookfield to grow our learning community.”

The change of tenure for these homes means that more CIP properties in Camden will remain affordable for generations to come, rather than sold on the open market. However, the Council will continue to deliver multi-tenure homes and the properties being considered for refugee housing account for a tiny percentage (less than 1%) of the total output.

Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council

Camden remains committed to building new homes for our community. We have plans to deliver over 550 council homes for local residents over the next five years. We have bought back into use over 150 homes to house homeless families.

“Right now in Camden we’re launching our programme to buy up 280 former Right-to-Buy council homes, each with at least two or three bedrooms, to increase the number of family homes that are available at social rent for those currently living in council housing. The programme will provide more space for Camden families living in severely crowded conditions and we plan to expand further in the future.

“We are calling on government to back us to provide more homes for our local community. We have a proven track record and with more support we could do even more to lift residents out of homelessness and overcrowding.

Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council

For information:

An application for funding to make the 41 homes - formerly for private sale and rent - available for refugees will be made to the Greater London Authority (GLA) who are administering and allocating government funds. Full proposals will then be brought to Camden’s Cabinet.

The proposal is to withdraw from the market all the new flats designated for private sale as part of our Community Investment Programme at the Highgate Newtown Community Centre site. The project is already delivering a state-of-the-art community and youth centre for local residents.

Camden is the lead partner for the national Afghan Coalition which has brought together businesses, advocacy groups, local and national government, to find better ways to support Afghan refugees who are in the country already, and to shape better refugee policy and support in the long-term.

This coalition work is placing particular emphasis, with the Home Office and DLUCH, on identifying more sustainable housing solutions.