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Petition to build large family homes

A PREGNANT mother living in a three-bedroom house in Lerwick with five of her children and her husband has launched a petition to encourage Shetland Islands Council and Hjaltland Housing Association to build larger sized homes in the isles.

Jolene Engum, who is due to give birth to another child next month, says things are reaching breaking point in her family home in Sandveien after the couple were turned down for a four-bedroom property elsewhere in the town.

Over 125 people have signed her online petition, which is called Larger houses to alleviate the overcrowding of working families in Shetland, and several parents said they are in similar situations.

Shetland Islands Council and Hjaltland Housing Association, both providing social housing, said in response that there is little demand for larger properties and new developments in the isles mirror these figures by focusing on smaller builds.

The Engums, who are both in employment, said they have two single rooms in their house which aren’t big enough for some of their children.

They have contacted Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Lerwick councillor Amanda Westlake about their plight.

“The other children are now sleeping in our living room,” Jolene said. “We’ve been told we’re not overcrowded because the front room is classed as unit, and the babies are classed as half a person.

“There’s nowhere to sit and eat meals together, because the kitchen is so tiny. I believe it’s having an impact on my children’s social skills.

“You can look at statistics as to how overcrowded and poor living conditions can impact on children’s’ mental health and wellbeing.”

The couple moved to Sandveien estate five years ago because of work and school commitments after previously living in Mossbank in a three-bedroom house which at the time offered more space.

They had more children since then and Jolene said they had been told by Hjaltland Housing Association that they would be first in line for the next four-bedroom property which came up.

A Grodians property was advertised, but the couple were not successful because they “didn’t have any medical points”, Engum said.

The expecting mother said she feels Shetland’s family make-up is changing and social housing doesn’t reflect the number of parents who are having more children.

“Families are getting bigger, and everyone has the right to have children,” she said.

“Not everybody is on benefits, or abusing the system. There are genuine families out there like us who work and are responsible. We can’t afford to private rent. One property we looked into, which would have been ideal, was £2,000 a month.”

The Engums, who also have two older children who are not living with them, recently raised a complaint about repairs which they say hadn’t been carried out, but she was later informed their application for transfer to suitable accommodation had been suspended.

She feels this is “conflicting and contradictory” as they were previously told there was no suitable housing available.

Hjaltland Housing Association (HHA) chief executive Bryan Leask said 13 people from their waiting list applied for the four-bedroom house in February.

In contrast, its last one-bedroom flat received 69 applications.

The association currently has a waiting list of 610 people and less than 20 per cent of this relates to three and four bedroom properties.

“With 80 per cent of the demand for smaller homes this is the priority identified for new build within the local housing strategy and as such where council and government support is focused,” Leask said.

“The size of properties being developed also depend on the site constraints that exist. For example, on a site like Fort Road or King Harald Street, where there is limited space, it is not practical to build larger houses, as there is no space for gardens and the increased cost of developing a constrained site also dictates that we need to try and increase the density to make the site more affordable.

“Where possible, and where site constraints allow, we always try to develop mixed sites with various sized homes to match the demand on our waiting list. However, as I’ve explained this has to be considered alongside cost of development and suitability of the site.”

HHA plans to build 157 units over the next five years in Shetland and to mirror registered demand, 61 per cent of these will be one-bedroom, while only five per cent will be four-bedroom properties.

An SIC spokeswoman said that they were aware of the petition but noted that “demand for larger houses currently accounts for two per cent of waiting list demand across Shetland”.