“When we were housed here by the council, we were told we would be here for three weeks,” says Jenny, who lives on the seventh floor of All Saints Tower on the Beaumont estate in Leyton, east London.
“That was seven years ago.”
Jenny shares a cramped three bedroom flat with her husband, their 24 year old daughter Attenene, Attenene’s three year old son and two of Jenny’s other grandchildren.
All Saints Tower has 20 floors. All the even numbered floors and some of the odd floors have been sealed off. On the “open” floors families live among boarded up flats.
Every floor has broken ceilings and stained floors. Residents believe that asbestos is flaking from the cracked ceilings.
The stairwells are cold as wind blows straight in through broken doors and windows. They are damp and smell of piss and decay.
The lifts work intermittently. “Both of them were broken on Christmas Day,” says Attenene. “We had to go up and down seven flights of stairs with the kids to get in and out of the flat.”
Their flat has damp patches on many of the walls. Jenny says a leaking pipe in the flat above caused some of them. Because some floors have been sealed off, the plumbers couldn’t get in to fix the fault and the water streamed down into Jenny’s flat.
Health is a big concern. Jenny has a gastric hernia and an underactive thyroid. She has joint and muscular pains that are made worse by living in the damp. When the lifts are broken she has to struggle with her shopping up the stairs.
The bathroom is tiny with a sink hanging off the wall and the toilet has no air vent.
At night residents are kept awake by the sound of rats scratching in the ceilings and doorways and Jenny has to leave the kitchen light on otherwise the room fills with cockroaches.
Overcrowding is a real problem. “There is no space and no privacy,” says Jenny. This is impacting on everyone in the family.
“My 13 year old granddaughter has to sleep on the sofa and then get up to go to school. And if my daughter is working an early shift, we all hear her getting up and running the taps.”
Attenene works part time as a sales assistant and can’t afford to rent privately. She has been told that if she moves out of the flat she will be classified as “intentionally homeless” and so will not qualify for help.
“I will be 25 next month,” she says. “I pay taxes. I shouldn’t have to be living with my parents at my age.” She is pregnant and expecting her second child in a few months time. “This is no place to bring up kids.”
The tower block used to belong to the council. It was sold off in 2002 along with 2,600 other council houses in Waltham Forest to London & Quadrant housing association – one of the biggest housing associations in Britain.
This was a result not just of local council policy but also of New Labour’s national strategy of pushing housing provision away from councils and towards housing associations and other “third sector” and private companies.
The family has lived in the flat through both council and housing association tenancies and Jenny says both have abandoned them. “I’ve been to meeting after meeting and demanded that something is done,” says Jenny. “But still nothing happens.”
London & Quadrant have promised the family that they will be rehoused into new flats being built on the estate. Both Jenny and Attenene have been given plot numbers for the new homes. But neither knows when or exactly where they will be moving.
“I was told two years ago that we were being rehoused, but we still don’t have a date,” says Attenene. “The uncertainty is hard. We’ve been told that we’re moving for so long now it’s like being permanently packed.”
Jenny has seen many residents in distress in the flats and is haunted by memories of seeing someone kill themselves by jumping from the tower block. She has never been offered any support to deal with this.
Jenny and Attenene showed Respect member Carole Vincent around the flat. Carole is taking up the issue of housing as part of her by-election campaign.
Carole told Socialist Worker, “I have spoken to many residents of the tower block. They have all had many promises of being rehoused. People can’t be expected to live in these conditions.”
To help in the Leyton by-election meet on Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 2pm in the the Desert Rose Coffee Shop Cafe, 401 Hoe Street, London E17. To help at other times, phone 07010 707 351