My SO Home: No. 18

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Shared owner, Denise Ramsey, dreamed of owning her own home. But things didn’t turn out the way she hoped. Her Optivo shared ownership home has turned into a nightmare.

“I own nothing but am responsible for everything. I face a bill of up to £90,000 for building safety which is likely to bankrupt me, leaving me homeless.

In 2006 I was 28, my ten-year relationship had ended, and I was living back with my mum in the council flat I grew up in. I had no savings and wasn’t sure how I would ever have a home of my own.

Denise Ramsay portrait for Optivo shared ownership feature

Southwark Council advised me that – as a single woman with no children – I’d be on the council home waiting list for approximately 8-10 years. They suggested I take a look at shared ownership instead. They said it helped single people on a low income, like me, secure an affordable home and get a first step on the housing ladder.

It took me 1½ years to save a mortgage deposit. My £53,000 mortgage paid for 25% of an Optivo shared ownership flat. I’d be paying the housing association rent on the remaining 75% share. Of course, I reviewed my income and expenditure carefully. I wanted to be sure I could afford ongoing monthly payments (not just mortgage and rent but also service charge, utilities, groceries, insurance and so on) by myself.

In January 2008 I moved into my own home. It felt wonderful, safe and secure. I remember one of my uncles visiting to add security locks and my other uncle bringing flowers and fizz to celebrate.

Fast forward to March 2021. That’s when Optivo notified me that an external wall survey had identified fire safety issues. They explained that a temporary fire alarm system would be put in place. In the event of a fire the previous stay put advice now stood at simultaneous evacuation. Optivo also shared that my building was low risk and not scheduled in the first year of their remediation programme. My building would likely be part of the 2024 programme. My home was no longer safe and secure. In fact, it had never been.

My share of building safety charges will cost more than my mortgage

September 2021. I am excluded from a design consultation that Optivo held with Engie, which only some residents are invited to attend. During that process the organisers share the information that my building is now considered in the top 3% of highest risk for Optivo’s portfolio. Remediation work will begin in November 2021. They also share that Optivo have looked at all avenues to secure funds from elsewhere and, since this was not fruitful, costs will be passed to residents.

I was shocked that information which would have such a significant impact on my life was shared in this way with zero thought for transparency, evidence or communication to ALL residents.

October 2021. Next I receive a letter stating that the total cost of remediation work is estimated at £2,631,281.

Friends and family are shocked. They ask: How is it possible that a shared ownership affordable housing scheme can pass these unimaginably life-changing costs through to me?

Answer: My lease states I am responsible for the inside of my property and Optivo are responsible for the building. But building safety needs (not just cladding) are considered repair and/or improvement, which means costs can be passed to residents via service charges.

I own nothing but am responsible for everything

Now I am in my 40’s and I go to sleep at night knowing my home is unsafe. I face an estimated bill of up to £90,000 which is likely to bankrupt me, leaving me homeless.

The building safety crisis is affecting thousands of people across the UK. Why should leaseholders, including shared owners, have to pay to rectify faults of developers and builders? If Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, truly aims to drive the Conservatives levelling up agenda he must support and embed the McPartland/Smith amendment to the Building Safety Bill.

Nothing shared, nothing owned and not affordable

As a child from a low socio-economic background, I dreamed of having my own home. But, in fact, shared ownership does not allow this.

  • Nothing is shared. I and my neighbours are liable for the full cost of remediation works and any other charges.
  • Nothing is owned. I am a resident not a homeowner.
  • Shared ownership isn’t even affordable given annual rises in rent and service charge, and now the unimaginable costs to rectify building safety.

I am trapped. Shared ownership is an expensive way of renting with all building costs attached. In short, I own nothing but am responsible for everything.

One Comment

  1. Harry Allen
    October 13, 2021

    My heart goes out to Denise,

    We like so many Optivo “shared” owners are in a similar position.

    Optivo seem to be hiding behind their “charitable” status and seem happy to keep their residents in the dark until the inevitable S20B lands in their post box.

    Keep the faith, we are all fighting for a solution to the Building Safety Crisis that will defend leaseholders from these terrible and life changing costs.

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