Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lynne F and scary London housing: a hair-raising tale of floods and narrow escapes

Lynne Featherstone writes about a Haringey woman who was trapped in a two-room, larvae-invested flat for nine years.

After going in "to do battle" with the council, the lady and her family are rehoused.

Unimaginably appalling council housing is a common problem in east and parts of north London (Haringey is in north London).

While on a placement at an east London newspaper, we were called by a hysterical woman who claimed she had lost all her possessions due to water pouring through her ceiling. She said the problem had been going on for three years, she kept having to buy new furniture, the flat stank and was covered in mould, and she was suffering respiratory problems.

I was disgusted and wanted to go down there, but the editor cautioned me. He said that it would have to be truly, unimaginably shocking for them to cover it. Unfortunately, he said, there was so much disgusting housing in the area that they could fill the newspaper every week with stories about it.

I saw this first hand when I went to an estate in east London to interview people about delays to renovation work. One woman said she had to repaint every month because of the amount of mould growing up her walls. Everyone was unhappy about the state of the housing and worried about drug addicts.

The area where I was interviewing looked quite nice. However, the next day I had to go to find the estate tenants' association. It was in the centre of a courtyard surrounded by low-rise brick buildings. Around half the flats in each building were boarded up and there was rubbish piled in the stairway. Windows were hanging off the hinges of some occupied flats. There was no lift and, while I was there, I saw a milkman lugging a pallet of milk to the third floor. Long strips of black paint hung off the bottom of the balconies.

The tenants' association looked like a prison with razor wire on top of a high fence, bars over the windows and a metal door. The association was locked so I decided see if the manager arrived. While I was waiting, I was told by two burly blokes that they wouldn't hang around since the boarded-up flats opposite used to be a crack den.

I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for families living around that courtyard.

*For those who wonder what happened to the flood lady, it turned out that her flat was fine. There was no sign of flood damage and it looked better than some student flats I've lived in. She constantly insisted the flat was so smelly and contaminated that she couldn't survive in it. I tried to nod sympathetically as she shouted and gestured aggressively about the flat, watched by a silent teenager who looked like he did body building (I'm assuming it was her son). I have never run so fast in my life.

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