STRUGGLING to find contractors to carry out repairs, re-homing people and making almost 3,000 welfare calls are just some of the challenges facing North Star Housing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Peter Locke, from the housing association, told Teesdale Action Partnership that the district has particular challenges because of its rural nature and the older age of its residents.
The association manages about 900 properties in the dale.
Mr Locke said: “We’ve had periods, particularly during the first lockdown, in which we haven’t been able to let all of our properties. We’ve had to pause some of our day-to-day business – that has included our day-to-day repairs as well.
“Throughout the restrictions we have been able to rehouse people when there have been significant challenges, so, for example, people fleeing domestic violence, cases of homelessness, that kind of thing. Where we have had those issues, we have worked closely with local authorities and community
organisations, particularly around moving people.”
He added that another problem faced by people is digital connectivity and access to technology for home schooling, and the association had established a team to look into the issue.
Two staff members had also been dedicated to helping tenants with issues such as accessing fuel vouchers and welfare benefits across the region.
Mr Locke said: “Last year it was nearly £3million of extra income that we were able to achieve for our customers, which is an absolutely phenomenal number.”
A major headache had been making repairs to properties, either because people were shielding and preferred not to have workers in their homes, or because of a lack of tradesmen to do the job.
He said: “That was particularly during the first lockdown because there are a lot of contractors who furloughed a lot of their staff. We’ve had lots of challenges to get tradesmen to operate for us. Thankfully we are out of that now and this latest lockdown hasn’t been as challenging.
“However, that has caused backlogs we have had to deal with.”
He acknowledged that this had an impact on customer service and some “will have experienced slightly worse standards of service than they would normally expect”.
The pandemic also caused the association to look more closely at its customers.
Mr Locke said: “We identified customers who had increased vulnerability due to Covid-19 and we made about 3,000 welfare calls to make sure they had everything they needed.
Where we could provide a service to them, we did, and where we couldn’t or we didn’t have capacity to do it, we worked with a number of local partners like Utass, Teesdale YMCA, TCR Hub and Beyond Limits, to make sure we gave them what they needed.
“We spent about £20,000 on direct Covid response projects. Of that, just over £10,000 went to organisations in Teesdale.
Mr Locke confirmed that North Star Housing, as part of the National Housing Federation, had pledged not to take eviction proceedings against anyone in arrears because of the crisis.
He added: “We are absolutely committed to supporting and sustaining our tenancy.
“We know people are going to struggle and as an organisation we are strong enough to support our customers through this period.”