Socialist Worker

Homes under the hammer—tenants face homelessness but council ‘doesn’t care’

A group of mainly black single mothers at Prospect House face pollution, unsafe homes, rodent infestations—and now the risk of homelessness. Residents told Isabel Ringrose that racism worsens their appalling treatment. Pictures by Guy Smallman

Issue No. 2740

Prospect House in Brent, west London

Prospect House in Brent, west London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Residents of Prospect House in London live in a squalid, shoddily ­converted office block on the bank of the six-lane North Circular Road. And now they face eviction.

Socialist Worker revealed the ­tenants’ horrific housing conditions back in 2019. Today their complaints still go ignored, and on top of that, they are threatened with homelessness.

Residents say the reasons for their appalling treatment are clear. “We are all from low-income families,” said Miss Miller. “And we’re all minorities.”

L’Oreal, another resident, said, “My housing will fall down to my skin colour. Our block has no white people. The majority of us are black single parents.”

Fadya also lives in the block. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve always got issues with rodents outside, issues with the bins, the front door and the gate doesn’t lock. Nothing gets fixed ­properly and we feel unsafe.

“The landlord doesn’t care.”

Prospect House is owned by a private landlord. Homeless families are housed in flats on a five-year lease managed by Shepherds Bush Housing Association. But it was Brent council that housed them in the dangerous block.

It’s a confusing chain of command that helps all three avoid responsibility for the building, and its vulnerable residents.

Fadya said, “When tenants ring the ­landlord with problems, he says it’s nothing to do with him and to call ­Shepherds Bush.

“He says he’s not the landlord. He may tell you to stop calling his number, but he’s also told us to ring him directly with maintenance issues and not Shepherds Bush.”

Miss Miller added, “We’re passed between the two. No one wants to take responsibility and they’re blaming it on each other.

“No one wants to take responsibility —until the rent is due.”

Nobody wants to spend money on us.

Tenants often go without running water, heating and hot water for days or weeks on end. “Nobody wants to spend money on us,” explained resident Karwan.

Fadya added, “Each household has different needs.

Residents say Prospect House isnt a safe place to live

Residents say Prospect House isn't a safe place to live (Pic: Guy Smallman)


“Some have children with learning disabilities, others have young children, elderly and sick people. We can’t all be treated the same.”

Stifling

Residents are also angry that they pay for heating when the flats are stifling. Fadya said, “The house is so humid and in the summer it’s even warmer. And you can’t open the windows—it’s ridiculous.

“It wasn’t made to be a home. There’s no neighbours or shops nearby. It’s embarrassing.”

Living on an industrial estate on the North Circular, the most polluted road in London, is not child friendly, safe or healthy.

“People walk past and stare,” said Karwan. “They can’t believe we live here.” Angela, another Prospect House resident, said, “I’m constantly suffering from the noise and pollution. I can’t sleep at night.

“Where this building is built is not safe.”

Miss Miller said three children in the block suffer sleep apnoea and ­breathing problems. “Shepherds Bush called it a coincidence,” she said. “But how can children who came here as babies coincidentally have the same health issues?”

The isolation and dereliction encourages unwanted guests to the building—both human and rodent. Residents have seen people let off fireworks aimed at the block.

“The main communal door keeps ­getting vandalised,” Angela said. “And it’s a glass door so it would nearly cut all the kids when they’d come in.

“Shepherds Bush said they’d fix it and put it down as an emergency. But it took them so long that the glass kept cracking. And it still isn’t fixed, it’s just boarded up.”

We had rats running around the building.

Miss Miller said there is food “littered everywhere” around the block from fly tippers and people who sit in the car park.

“This makes our situation worse, because when Shepherds Bush send their cleaning people, they think the mess is us,” she said.

“We had rats running around the building freely, so the landlord put little blue boxes on the landings. But it’s not safe. And who is picking these up and taking them?

“I’ve given up fighting the landlord. There’s no point because in the end he will win.

It’s the landlord’s word against the tenants. Anything he says is gospel.”


‘My kids ask me, “Mummy, where are we going to go?”’

The 15 families at Prospect House are being evicted because the lease is running out.

London councils pay landlords to house homeless people because of a lack of social housing. But this profit‑hungry landlord plans to redevelop the site and build four more floors.

He told residents the block was being demolished. They must now struggle their way through the tangled web of homelessness regulations to get help.

“We were all issued with section 21 notices on 16 November,” said Miss Miller. “We all have to leave by 23 May.

“We’ve contacted Brent council, but they can’t help you. They don’t care. We’ve been told to find private rents and look for ourselves.”

Brent council’s housing allocation scheme helps to find private rented accommodation.

It says that “only a small number of applicants are able to find permanent accommodation in council or housing association properties”.

The lack of social housing means residents are palmed off to landlords such as the one at Prospect House or are forced to leave London. And it’s not just a problem in Brent—it’s one for council tenants across Britain.

Residents are living in a converted office block by the North Circular

Residents are living in a converted office block by the North Circular (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Britain’s housing crisis has seen skyrocketing numbers of homeless people and a dire lack of council housing. But countless new sites sell flats at eye-watering prices that are often left empty.

“We would all be happy for this place to go,” said Miss Miller. “They could rehouse us. When I look out my window, I can see so many new buildings that are fully developed. Why can’t they move us into those flats across the way?

“We’ve got young kids so we need to be in this catchment area. But they might send us outside London. Are we supposed to start a whole new life?”

Angela described the stressful situation she has been left in. “I pay part housing benefit which most landlords do not take,” she said.

“They are supposed to by law, but they make excuses. Estate agents ask for guarantors who can provide up to £65,000. But I don’t know anyone who has that.

“Last week an estate agent called me and said the landlord didn’t want me as a tenant. I have a feeling it was because of my housing benefits.

“I’m here with my son and when it comes to May I don’t know what I’m going to do. You email and call the housing officer from the council, but they don’t reply.”

Angela said she didn’t mind leaving Prospect House but said the issue is where she will move to. “I don’t want to stay here, but I want an option of where I can move to,” she said.

“Not knowing where I’m going is always on my mind.”

Fadya is in a similar situation.

“I celebrated when I got the section 21 at first, but then reality hit,” she said. “There’s a stigma with having housing benefits.

“I said to the housing officer that I’ve been here just gone two years. I came from a hostel that I was in for two months with three kids. I don’t want to be back in that situation.

“Brent council told me I don’t have to move until May because that’s when the court proceedings will start. But I don’t want to leave it to the end.”

The uncertainty is affecting her children. “My kids ask me, ‘Mummy, where are we going to go?’” said Fadya. “They are old enough to know what is happening.

“We’re home learning, constantly in. Kids being kids want a house with a garden, but I can’t promise that to them.”

Facing eviction and homelessness in a pandemic, despite new legislation to prevent homelessness, is daunting.

Fadya said, “We’ve all got children and worry for people’s mental health. But we can only rely on each other. Brent housing officers just don’t get it, there’s no emotion, just paperwork.

“They have a duty of care, but they don’t care.”


‘This housing system is designed to keep people low’

Homeless people must prove the council has a duty to house them in order to get help. That duty is discharged when long term housing is found—including in the private rented sector.

L’Oreal’s son has several medical conditions, but her original bid for housing in 2015 was incorrectly banded in a low priority category.

That meant she was offered a flat in Prospect House—and told that if she rejected it, there would be no more assistance.

“I’ve been trying to get Brent Council to appeal their decision that they have discharged their housing duty, because this flat is not safe,” L’Oreal explained. “But they rejected my application and said it was suitable.”

Her daughter suffers from sleep apnoea due to the noise and pollution from the busy main road.

“I’m told it’s my fault,” she said. “When my daughter is trying to sleep and not breathing so I have to move her head—how do I fix that?

Inside Prospect House - where residents now face eviction and homelessness

Inside Prospect House - where residents now face eviction and homelessness (Pic: Guy Smallman)


“Brent council don’t care, they fob you off. My case was discharged, and it’s taken five years and two long applications for me to prove Brent has a duty to rehouse me. They don’t look into cases properly.”

After years of stress, L’Oreal has been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which causes an overactive thyroid. Now she faces even more stress.

“Landlords are all about profit,” she said. “My worry is that I’m put into the private rented sector and I have to go through this all over again.

“I want to come off benefits because it’s a trap. There is a stigma making you feel not enough and unworthy and dirty.

“The system was designed to keep people low and to stay low. There is enough stigma in society for being black Caribbean.”


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