AN image change for the 35 sheltered housing complexes in South Tyneside has helped fill empty units, it has been revealed.
In 2011, housing for the elderly was re-branded by the council as Housing Plus.
There was also investment in sprucing up communal areas and corridors to make the sheltered units more attractive.
It was part of moves to overcome a widely-held perception that moving into units was “the same as going into a care home”.
Now new statistics show that the approach is paying dividends, with previously vacant flats within such complexes reduced by 75 per cent – from 60 to 15 between May 2012 and August this year.
One such example is Croftside Court, in Bowman Street, Whitburn. Just over a year ago it had 13 empty units – now it is full.
Thomas Bell House in Ryedale Court, South Shields, is also now full to capacity.
Brian Scott, director of housing, finance and business support for South Tyneside Homes, said: “It wasn’t just a name change.
“It is about creating something different.
“We have gone from a lack of demand to a situation where there may soon be more than demand than supply.
“We have to decide what we are going to do about an ageing population.
“We need to work with the council to enable people to stay in their homes for longer.
“That’s the challenge.”
Members were also told that many Housing Plus units were attracting younger residents – including active people in their 50s.
Now the council is also considering a return of designated wardens, now called Housing Plus officers, at individual borough units.
A shake-up of services three years ago saw some warden cover removed from many sheltered accommodation units – a move which proved unpopular with many residents.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that residents still “don’t feel safe” as a result of the change.
The council is now considering whether a return to designated Housing Plus officers for each unit was possible.