Okwajo Tweneboa adored his father. They have been very related: they each loved fun, had an curiosity in present affairs and made sacrifices to care for others. Then, in January 2020, Tweneboa watched his father, who immediately turned terminally in poor health with most cancers, die. All of the whereas, cockroaches, mice and flies infested their dilapidated housing affiliation flat on the Eastfields property in Mitcham, south London.
Tweneboa, a 23-year-old scholar, shared the flat along with his two sisters, 24 and 21. He says he requested the housing affiliation, Clarion, to make repairs for greater than a yr, with little success, earlier than deciding to take additional motion. Since then, he has turn out to be a champion for his neighbours and all these residing in equally squalid situations, forcing landlords and housing associations to acknowledge their obligations and make pressing, obligatory repairs.
“I’m willing to take on absolutely everybody and anybody to guarantee this concern is spoken about,” he says. “It’s been going on for means too lengthy.”
Talking through a video name, Tweneboa is eloquent and passionate as he lists the appalling situations his household had to endure after transferring into the flat in 2018. He says the pest infestation made house cooking not possible, so the household lived on takeaways. There was mould on partitions. In a single room, there was no ceiling, simply uncovered beams and floorboards from the flat above. Cupboards rotted and water poured by lighting fixtures, which Tweneboa claims have been surrounded by asbestos. “I couldn’t even bathe in my very own home. I had to go to the gymnasium,” Tweneboa says.
Regardless of repeated appeals to Clarion – Europe’s largest housing affiliation – he says he acquired little assist. (Clarion denies this.) When Clarion did reply, they despatched the incorrect individuals to repair the incorrect factor. Tweneboa says he complained in regards to the lacking ceiling in February 2020, however nobody got here to repair it till October. “As a substitute, they despatched a roofing workforce out – it was silly issues like that. They didn’t really put the ceiling again up till the next yr.”
In the meantime, Tweneboa’s father, a former care employee, was present process therapy for stage 4 oesophageal most cancers. He was recognized in November 2018, 10 months after they moved in, and cared for at house by Macmillan nurses. Tweneboa was shocked by his father’s sudden deterioration. “I’ve by no means skilled something like that earlier than,” he says. “He would simply sleep for days on finish. It wiped him out. I imagine he deteriorated as shortly as he did because of the situations he was residing in.”
The nurses struggled to care for Tweneboa’s father due to the dire state of the property. “They have been discovering it troublesome to bathe him within the toilet, for instance, because it had no lights and the tiles have been falling aside.”
Landlords ignoring their tenants’ requests is an all-too-common observe. In October, the Housing Ombudsman’s report on damp and mold in socially rented properties discovered evidence of “maladministration” amongst 56% of the 142 landlords they investigated over a two-year interval, rising to 64% for complaint-handling alone. The report stated: “This failure charge was usually the results of inaction, extreme delays or poor communication.”
The roots of Britain’s housing disaster may be traced to Margaret Thatcher’s authorities and the 1980 Housing Act, which gave council tenants the suitable to purchase their council properties. Councils enticed tenants with the provide of 100% mortgages and generous discounts on the worth of their property. Wealthier tenants have been usually in a position to rework their properties earlier than promoting them or turning into landlords themselves, however this resulted in a drop within the numbers of properties obtainable for those that nonetheless required social housing.
At the moment, getting social housing – and having it repaired – can really feel like a lottery. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Native Authorities (now the Division for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) had its budget cut in half in 2010, whereas austerity has the housing departments of councils short-staffed and unable to respond quickly to complaints.
When Thatcher took energy in 1979, the common council tenant paid £6.40 in lease per week. When John Main took workplace in 1992, tenants have been forking out £30 a week – an increase of 370%. Nevertheless, the common pay for full-time guide employees rose by only 189% over the identical interval, which suggests the proportion of revenue spent on lease by these employees had elevated by about 62% by 1992. Councils haven’t changed the properties they offered and plenty of tenants who stay in social housing really feel as if they’ve been forgotten.
The dearth of social housing inventory additionally forces many low-income households into the decrease finish of the non-public rental market, the place they’ve even fewer rights than social renters, who can often lease their properties for life. Assured shorthold tenancies permit non-public landlords to concern no-fault eviction notices without giving a reason, which suggests some landlords will ignore tenants’ complaints about important repairs and handle them at their very own comfort – particularly when coping with low-income tenants who really feel they’ve few choices.
One of many essential issues with housing within the UK is that many of the buildings are old: 81% have been constructed earlier than 1990, 35% have been constructed earlier than 1945 and 20% have been constructed a century in the past. Austerity has compounded this to create the housing distress we see right now. The Good Home Inquiry, revealed by the Centre for Ageing Higher in September, discovered that 4.1m properties don’t meet the first rate properties commonplace (DHS), the statutory minimal commonplace for housing. This states that properties have to be freed from harmful hazards, have trendy amenities, be in an affordable state of restore and have efficient insulation and heating. Tweneboa’s house fell effectively wanting these standards.
Tweneboa and his sisters had lived with their father since they have been youngsters (his mom additionally lives in London). Earlier than transferring to Eastfields, that they had spent years in cramped non permanent lodging, unable to afford the price of a mortgage or the excessive rents of personal lodging. As soon as, they have been housed in a one-room transformed storage. “There was mould rising on to the beds and we had a water [pipe] burst throughout winter, so we had to name the hearth brigade. It was simply absolutely horrific.” Tweneboa’s father fought for years to get the household into social housing; Eastfields was the one everlasting lodging provided to the household.
A yr after his father died, Tweneboa took issues into his personal arms. In Might, he determined to shame the housing association on Twitter, posting a set of images displaying his household’s residing situations. He wrote: “Clarion Housing has to be one of many worst council housing in London. Since my dad handed away in 2020 they’ve left me in a property which has been described as ‘unliveable’ and after I’ve referred to as to chase a leak which I reported 5 days in the past they’ve instructed me they’re busy.”
The tweets went viral, attracting attention from the national press. Tweneboa additionally began a petition asking Clarion’s chief govt, Clare Miller, to resign. The petition famous how Miller was paid £400,000 a yr whereas “her tenants dwell in situations not match for animals”.
The destructive press appeared to spur Clarion into motion. They repaired Tweneboa’s flat over the summer season and issued an apology stating: “We acknowledge the inconvenience the repairs points at this property have precipitated and apologise if Mr Tweneboa feels we haven’t supplied the service anticipated from us.”
“That sentence actually irritated me,” Tweneboa says. “So I contacted each single home on my property and, inside half an hour, I had fixed messages or images, complaints of everybody else struggling with the identical disrepair – in some circumstances, even worse.”
Tweneboa says he found that some tenants on Eastfields had been complaining about their residing situations for many years. A household of six complained they have been contending with dampness so extreme that mushrooms had sprouted throughout their house. Different tenants reported collapsed ceilings, damaged hearth doorways – which allowed strangers to trespass, use medicine and relieve themselves within the communal hallways – and hordes of mice scurrying round contained in the partitions.
Tweneboa posted a thread on Twitter with extra images and descriptions of the disrepair, forcing Clarion to issue a further response: “We recognise that some repairs and pest management measures have taken too lengthy during the last six months and apologise to all affected residents.” The housing affiliation additionally promised “a seamless deliberate funding programme”, which included adorning and updates to home equipment.
After he referred to as out Clarion on-line, Tweneboa’s inbox blew up. “I’ve had a whole bunch, if not 1000’s, of individuals contact me from throughout the nation,” he says. One household stated that they had to wash their youngsters on their high-rise balcony in the course of the top of winter as a result of their bathe had damaged. Clarion allegedly instructed the mom of the household to use the bathroom and the kitchen sink; her son ended up in hospital due to the chilly situations. A girl in Westminster claimed her water heating pipe exploded at 4am, flooding her flat and leaving her with burns. Tweneboa additionally heard from tenants combating mould, damp, disrepair, infestation and neglect.
“We’ve been struggling,” he says. “This ought to be a nationwide scandal, however it’s been saved beneath wraps and ignored for so lengthy. I’ve realised that this has been going on for absolutely many years, longer than I’ve been alive, however individuals in energy simply don’t care.”
In 2017, 72 individuals died within the Grenfell Tower hearth. The catastrophe uncovered the excessive degree of neglect for the nation’s poorest households and highlighted how sluggish landlords may be to react to critical complaints. Concerns had been raised in regards to the supplies used within the constructing’s exterior cladding years earlier than the Kensington high-rise went up in flames. The disaster impressed books, documentaries and movies and galvanised housing campaigners. 4 years later, although, not a lot has modified for the UK’s poorest tenants.
Tweneboa says he thought that, after Grenfell, councils can be extra conscientious about housing security. “However what I realized is that folks’s lives are nonetheless being put in danger. I’ve little doubt that folks have died because of residing in social housing.” His intuitions are appropriate. In 2019, E3G, a local weather change thinktank, reported that 17,000 people died due to chilly households within the winter of 2017/18 – the sixth-worst determine in a examine of 30 European nations. Research have proven that poor residing situations can have a profound affect on individuals’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Since its public shaming, Clarion claims to have knocked on the door of “every house” in Eastfields to inform residents of its plans for the realm. It has additionally opened a brand new on-site workplace and introduced a £1.3bn regeneration project in Merton, together with the Eastfields property.
A Clarion spokesperson says: “Clarion Housing Group and Merton council have a joint imaginative and prescient for the way forward for the Eastfields property, which is a group that advantages from regeneration and brings ahead a whole bunch of latest reasonably priced properties.
“Since Mr Tweneboa’s case first got here to gentle final yr, we now have invested considerably into present properties, apologised to residents the place our service fell quick and revealed a complete classes realized report. Our focus now could be on the longer term and dealing with the council, our residents and key companions to create a group that everybody residing in Eastfields will really feel proud to name house.”
After every thing Tweneboa has been by, does he really feel as if he has made a distinction? “My group positively values me due to how outspoken I’ve been. However Clarion solely put out their statements after I get the media concerned. They’ve by no means been willing to speak to me immediately. They don’t care. [But] I don’t want to really feel valued by them; the one factor I care about is people who find themselves struggling beneath the identical situations as I did.”
On the Eastfields property, Clarion says it has accomplished greater than 600 repairs since June 2021, in addition to kitchen and toilet replacements at 24 properties, as a part of their funding programme. Though his father by no means bought to see these achievements, Tweneboa is aware of he can be happy to see him serving to so many individuals. “He can be proud and he would say: ‘Maintain going and maintain doing it till they pay attention.’”