WALTHAM FOREST: Council housing "as bad as Victorian times" (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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WALTHAM FOREST: Council housing "as bad as Victorian times"
COUNCIL and social housing tenants in Waltham Forest are suffering levels of overcrowding last seen in Victorian times, according to John Cryer MP.
The Leyton and Wanstead MP was scathing in his criticism of homes provided to the poorest members of the community during a Commons debate on Tuesday (March 7).
He said constituents regularly ask him for help over problems such as overcrowding and poor conditions, which are associated with poor health and exam results.
He added: “We are getting back to the sort of levels of overcrowding that probably were last seen during the Victorian era.
“If we continue down the path we are on, with overcrowding and bad living and working conditions, there will be an explosion in many of the illnesses that we associate with those conditions and serious public health problems.”
This week it emerged that Waltham Forest has the highest levels of homelessness in the country and there are currently 21,581 on the council and social housing waiting lists.
The Guardian regularly receives reports of poor housing conditions in council properties managed by Ascham Homes, which was created to bring all housing up to a basic standard of decency.
The housing management organisation said that all but 45 of the properties it manages achieved Decent Homes standard by December 2011.
And the problems are not just in the poorer parts of the borough covered by Mr Cryer’s constituency.
The walls in 83-year-old Clifford Robnett’s flat in Ropers Avenue, Chingford, are blackened with mould, a common problem across the borough.
He said the mould, which has been a problem for two years, creates a potent smell and he has been prescribed sleeping tablets because it keeps him awake.
Ascham Homes contractors have visited the property, but he has been simply told to open his windows open.
Mr Robnett said: “It’s dreadful, they’re asking us to risk being robbed to have the damp problem sorted. The smell is horrible but we have not been able to fix it all this time.”
Council house rents are set to increase by an average of 6.9 per cent in April, but the authority says it has little choice due to government changes to funding.
The council campaigned against a rent rise of 5.8 per cent in 2009, with then cabinet member for housing, Cllr Marie Pye, describing it as unfair.
Margaret Smith, 71, of St George’s Court in Wood Street, Walthamstow, will see her rent rise by 8.2 per cent, from £87.2p a week to £94.19p.
She said: “I am not on benefits and because I had savings and a pension I pay the rent all myself. It’s a big increase and it’s tough.”
A spokeswoman for Ascham Homes said: "Following an inspection of Mr Robnett's flat, Ascham Homes can confirm that there is condensation in the property.
"We regret that condensation has been a problem in his property and believe that installing windows with secure ventilation will alleviate this issue.
Mr Robnett's property is scheduled for window replacement this year and he will be informed when the programme has been confirmed by the council.
"Ascham Homes have arranged for a surveyor to visit the property next week and discuss any issues with the resident directly.
Cllr Saima Mahmud, the council's cabinet member for Housing, said: "The council recognises that the rent increases will be challenging to those on low incomes and sympathises with tenants that may find the rises difficult in the current financial climate.
"Waltham Forest, like most councils, follows Government policy when deciding the level of rent rises. The policy makes a link with the RPI increase in September, plus an additional amount to move towards target rents – that is to bring them closer to housing association rents
"The council has written to Government about the scale of the increase, but has been informed that the policy will not alter.
"While the council has looked at options to absorb some of the increase, this would necessarily mean less money to invest in the maintenance and improvements of council homes.
"Like many of its residents, the financial climate is having a significant impact on the Council, which is having to cope with cuts in Government funding that mean it needs to find savings of £65m over four years.
"As a landlord, the council is obliged to keep homes safe and warm and to meet all of its legal responsibilities in terms of repairs and maintenance to council homes.
"Accordingly, while the council does not take the decision lightly, it must stick to the Government policy in order to provide a decent housing service."
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