Council housing in Southwark, south London, “is not in as good a condition as everyone wants it to be”.
That was the verdict of the Investing in Council Housing—Options for the Future report published in October last year.
Sulaiman Keita, who lives in a one-bedroom council flat in Southwark, is only too aware of this.
He’s originally from Sierra Leone and moved into the flat in July 2009. But his life is far from the Daily Mail’s rosy vision of what life is like for migrants in Britain.
“The boiler stopped working after one month and two weeks,” Sulaiman told Socialist Worker. “It started leaking but the council didn’t repair it.”
The gas boiler and old copper pipes leading to it are covered in rust. As he unscrewed the front casing, water started to flow out.
Sulaiman said, “In winter, if you run your hand along the walls they are wet. The window frames are rotten.
“There is no heating and no hot water. I have to boil a small kettle about four times to get a small amount of water to wash. Sometimes the water from the tap is discoloured.
“In the winter I have to spend £30 a week to use one small electric heater. I put that on and just stay stuck in one room.”
There is more council housing in Southwark than in any other London borough. Yet some 25,000 people are on the borough’s housing waiting list.
At the root of the borough’s housing crisis is a long-term policy of selling off council housing, as highlighted by a high-profile occupation in Southwark this week.
Housing campaigners occupied one of the most valuable council-owned buildings in Britain from Monday of this week in protest at council house selloffs.
The council auctioned off the building for nearly £3 million.
Southwark council said it has had problems with accessing Sulaiman’s flat. Councillor Ian Wingfield, Southwark cabinet member for housing, said, “The council has made every effort to gain access to this resident’s property to carry out the essential repair work that is needed.
“Unfortunately the resident has refused us access at every attempt, and we have had to take the matter to the courts to try to obtain an injunction in order to gain access.
“The hearing has already been adjourned twice at Mr Keita’s request, but is now scheduled to take place on 31 October.
“We hope the courts will grant us access to the property so that we can ensure Mr Keita has a warm, dry and safe home and also that his neighbours can remain safe and secure, which is what we want for all our tenants.”
Yet Sulaiman said the council has not offered him an alternative place to live while it carries out the repairs. And he said that the council previously denied that any repairs were needed.
He was told before he moved in that the necessary repairs would be carried out. When this didn’t happen, he contacted the council.
“I wrote a letter to the housing area manager,” he said. “I didn’t get a response.
“I then wrote a letter to the general manager for Southwark council property. The response that I received from the office stated that the property is in good condition.”
Last year’s report noted that selloffs have eroded Southwark’s council housing stock. It attacked the building of estates “on the cheap” and “patching up” of stock.
But while councils refuse to properly invest in affordable council housing, the problems will only get worse.
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