Social cleansing: The mums at the sharp end of the housing crisis

Residents at Boundary House have teamed up with housing activists to highlight the conditions they are living in
Residents at Boundary House have teamed up with housing activists to highlight the conditions they are living in
Natalie Bloomer By

Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City is the not sort of the place you would want to raise your children. The property is made up of around 43 cramped bedsits, which were clearly never intended for families. Yet for some London mothers, this is where they are forced to call home.

Earlier this year, Politics.co.uk reported on the case of Elina Garrick, who had been living, with her three children, at Boundary House for 18 months. She was sent there by Newham council after she turned to them for support with housing following the breakdown of her relationship. Elina now has a home in Basildon and Newham council no longer send people to Boundary House, but other councils continue to do so.

A number of residents have come together to speak out about the conditions they are living in.

In 2014, Susan (all names have been changed), was evicted from her rented accommodation after becoming pregnant. At the time, she was working full time but struggled to find affordable accommodation for herself and her expected baby. She asked Waltham Forest Council for help but all they could offer her was a room at Boundary House. Susan was worried about living so far away from her family and work but she was told it was a just temporary solution and that she shouldn't be there for long. Two and a half years later and she is still in Welwyn Garden City. She continues to work in London and has to spend a large chunk of her income on train fares.


"It's a nightmare," Susan says. "They are leaving me and my daughter in damp and mouldy conditions."

"It's been hell living in a third floor room with no lift. Day in, day out I have to carry my daughter and her pushchair with all my shopping up to the third floor. Each time, I fear I might slip and my daughter will be hurt."

Lucy is 22 and lives at Boundary House with her young son. She was also moved there from London by Waltham Forest council. It takes her around two hours every morning to drop her son at nursery and then travel into work.

"It's so far away, I'm isolated from anyone I know," she says.

Like many of the residents there, she talks about problems with maintenance at the property. She says that when her hot water stopped working, it took weeks of calls before it was sorted. On one occasion somebody was sent out to fix it but when Lucy returned home she says her room was left in a mess.

"The place was a disgrace. Live wires were left out in the open and my son was only one at the time, so I couldn't relax. Then after all that, I still had no water. It took another company to come out before they realised I needed a new boiler."

Many of the residents talk about problems with damp and mould and worry about the effect it is having on their children's health. Susan says that her heating stopped working last winter and has still not been repaired.

"My daughter was always getting sick with fevers and chesty coughs, but to this day the heating has still not been fixed."

In recent years, cash-strapped London councils have resorted to housing people outside of the city. As well as Welwyn Garden City, local authorities have also sent people to places like Luton, Milton Keynes and Birmingham. Last week, Susan and Lucy, along with other residents, teamed up with housing activists to call on councils to bring them back to London and to investigate the suitability of Boundary House as accommodation for families.

Waltham Forest Council says they are forced to house people outside of the capital because shifts in the housing market and changes to benefits have led to an acute shortage of available properties. A council spokesperson said:

"The Council has met with a number of residents at Boundary House in recent months to discuss their specific concerns over conditions, and we have liaised intensively with the managing agents to address these. Any existing concerns should be directed to the managing agents in the first instance, however the Council's Temporary Accommodation can also be contacted if residents feel that their concerns are not being addressed."

"All the families in residence at Boundary House have been awarded extra points on the housing register where this accommodation is smaller than their full assessed need. This places them in a stronger position when bidding for properties on the housing register, compared to families who have been in temporary accommodation longer but whose accommodation complies with their assessed need. We are encouraging residents in Boundary House and elsewhere to consider moving into the private rented sector, with financial assistance from the service, and a small number of residents from Boundary House have done this with our support in recent months."

Natalie Bloomer is a journalist for Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.

Newsletter update