Living in Prospect House is dangerous. It is an old office block just off the big, busy North Circular ring road in north London which has been converted into studio flats. It is separated from the North Circular by a single slip road.
The families who live in the flats are constantly in fear their children might run onto the road. And the pollution has an effect on the people that live there too.
“In the summer we have to keep the windows open because it gets so hot. But the motorway is right there, and there is also a cafe next door which many bikers use so there is even more pollution,” L’Oreal Williams told Socialist Worker.
“My daughter has sleep apnea which I think has been brought on by the environment that we are in because of the pollution. She didn’t have this before we moved here. My neighbour’s child has developed the same condition and other people have reported similar problems.”
Yet Brent council holds the development up as a good example of how to house people in need. When the block was first converted in 2016 the council puffed themselves up in a press release entitled “Prospects are good”.
On top of this, planning documents from 2017 indicate the council approves of plans from the landlord to build a further four stories on top of the block. What will it mean for people living there if the work goes ahead? Turfed on to the streets, or subject to even further disruption?
“We live on the first floor of the office block,” said L’Oreal. “The landlord still uses the ground floor as storage. There are constant deliveries of crates—we don’t know what is in them. We don’t know if flammable materials are being stored underneath where we sleep at night.”
L’Oreal has raised her concerns with the landlords, but has received brush-offs in response.
“At one point there were six lights not working in the building. At other points we have been without electricity and water,” she said.
When she discovered a crack in her toilet that was leaking the landlord and Shepherds Bush housing association passed the buck before someone eventually came to fix it.
In a letter to L’Oreal the housing association’s private sector accommodation (PSA) neighbourhood officer Thomas Watkins said, “These claims include stating the building is unsafe for your son where you also fail to provide any further details.
“It is not reasonable for a housing provider to continually respond to vague claims about the safety of a large property particularly where a tenant is causing unnecessary uncertainty.
“Further to this Shepherds Bush Housing feel a disproportionate amount of resources have been investigating and countering your claims, various staff have visited the property and spoken to many tenants and the general feedback is not consistent with your perception.”
Prospect House is private accommodation. The landlord is contracted out by the housing association, which is contracted out by the council. It’s the typical outsourcing chain, with the people at the top—the council—able to claim ignorance about what happens further down.
Yet it is people being passed down the chain.
L’Oreal described how “we’re trying to get our voices heard because this is not just about our living standards. This is about our children.”
The Tories have created a housing system where people are living in dangerous housing next to motorways.
Labour have said they will make the conversion of office blocks into housing illegal if they come to office. But that must be coupled with a mass council house building programme, not more semi-privatised housing association homes.