The grim reality of being rehoused by Lambeth

by More Street Cleaning and less Social Cleansing, please

I was given a final direct offer of rehousing from Lambeth and I went to see the place yesterday.

Lambeth council are moving me out of the Co-op home I’ve lived in since 1980, one of the reasons being, Lambeth said, my home was in poor condition.

This is my experience of the place they want me to move to:

From the outside, the brickwork looks ok, but the window ledges were broken, lots of loose masonry that moves when you touch it .

Going inside, I get told to be careful of the broken and exposed electric cables and switches, the power was on (does Lambeth council have any rules around Health & Safety and live electricity and allowing the public access to what is, essentially, a building site?)

The bedroom was completely dark, boarded shut from the inside. Turned on the light and I could see floorboards up, damp and mildew everywhere, a wooden structure for a false ceiling attached to the wall, piles of potting compost under the floorspace and bits of silver foil material lying around. An ex- cannabis growing enterprise? Probably, laughed the council bloke.

There are large holes in the walls, cut to take the flexible silver ducting used in ventilation systems, not something you would normally find in the bedroom of a council maisonette.

Opened the back door to find a pool of stagnant water over the yard, it looked a bit soap scummy, so maybe there’s something wrong with the drains?

All the windows at the back are very rotten, the timber is shot. The window ledges are broken here too.

There’s a redundant water cistern taking up lots of cupboard space in the kitchen/dining room area. Have been told these don’t usually get removed, even though they’re of no use anymore.

Lino flooring in some of the flat, it has some kind of sticky residue all over it. Dirty bare floorboards everywhere else. Some floorboards under the lino feel ‘springy’ – rotten boards? Or maybe rotten joists underneath?

No worktops or units or anything in the kitchen.

I ask about the work that needs doing. The council bloke laughs and says Lambeth usually only manage to get about 50% of the work that’s needed, actually done. He said I’d be given 6 weeks after moving in, to pester the council to get the work finished properly. Implying that after the 6 weeks, any work that hadn’t been sorted out wouldn’t be done?

He tells me how the housing system works, I have to say whether I want the flat or not and that acts as me ‘reserving’ the place. I wouldn’t have to sign anything until the work is all finished and the place is ready to move into (this is obviously not the same as telling me that probably only 50% of the work would be done by the time I have to move in and I’d have to pester to get the rest of the work done). it’s all relaxed and he’s not pushy about anything. Then he talks to someone back at the office. Suddenly, he says I have to make a decision within an hour, take it or leave it, basically. He said there’s a note in my file that says I have to make a decision quickly, he wants to know within an hour what I want to do.

I ask about the flat next door, the windows at the front are boarded up, the windows at the back are ‘whited’ out, with blinds just visible behind, there’s a heavy security gate over the front door, the telly is on really (really) loud. The council bloke quickly assures me it’s not a ‘void’. I ask him whether he thinks the flat might be being used to grow cannabis too. He laughs and says yes, maybe. He says he’ll have to report it, now that I’ve brought it to his attention, though unless a neighbour has complained about anything, there’s nothing he can do. Pardon, let’s go over that again, the windows are smashed in, the front is boarded up, he’s from the council, but there’s nothing he can do about it? It kind of feels like there’s nothing he actually wants to do about it, either.

I’m disabled. The flat is on a hill. The flat is half a mile from the shops and transport.

There is only one bedroom, although my carer stays with me for 3 or 4 days a week and I need to sleep in a separate room. This is something I can do at the moment, in my current home.

I don’t know anyone in Streatham, the closest friend to me will be in Oval, and neither of us drive.

If I take this new place, my carer can’t stay over as often as she does now – there’s nowhere for her to sleep. If my carer isn’t around I can’t get my shopping done as often and I won’t be able to rely on her to take me to hospital appointments, deal with paying bills, hoovering the floor, changing the bed clothes, boring things like that. And, being disabled and not able to go out very often, I’m unlikely to be able to meet the neighbours often enough to form the kind of friendships that become necessary when someone is ill and needs help. Even more worryingly, I won’t be able to have my carer help me for most the 3 month recuperation period after I have abdominal surgery done next month. That’s weeks of not being allowed to lift more than a paperback book, or stand for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Does that mean the only food that will be available to me will be takeaways?

I don’t know what to do. Lambeth say I won’t be offered another place to live if I refuse this place, but so much about this new place is unsuitable for me. It would be ok if I was physically alright, but, being disabled, it’s actually wrong in almost every way.

Lambeth’s Medical Review Team has dismissed all the reports I have from the consultants I see and from my GP. My GP is the only person who has an overview of my complicated health problems, but her opinion is ignored by Lambeth council.

Who are Lambeth’s Medical Review Team? What are their qualifications?

Who is in charge of making sure repairs are done properly and on time? More pertinently, who is failing to ensure repairs are done properly and on time?

What is Lambeth’s policy on (possible) criminal activities taking place in their properties? A neighbour a couple of doors along from the place I looked at wasn’t aware of any recent Police drugs bust, did Lambeth council report the fact their property had obviously been used as a place to cultivate cannabis?

What responsibilities do council officers have regarding the upkeep and maintenance of council housing? Are they required to automatically report problems they are aware of, or can they ignore obvious problems, as long as nobody says anything to them?

Are ‘Shortlife’ residents being treated in a particularly malicious manner by Lambeth’s housing allocations department?

Why are ‘Shortlife’ co-op residents being rehoused in properties that are in poorer condition than the properties they are being moved from?

Does Lambeth have an inadequate policy regarding rehousing disabled residents? I’ll answer this one myself, yes – their system is failing me.

– Trace Newton