Newham Council pays £61million to keep the homeless homeless as scale of housing crisis soars
PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 July 2018
There are 4,892 families without a permanent home in Newham, the highest figure for 10 years and a sign of the borough's growing homelessness crisis. EMMA YOULE reports in the first of our special Hidden Homeless series
Care worker Denise Ward’s dilapidated flat is infested with ants and has trails of slug slime glistening on the dirty bedroom walls, yet it costs the council £240 a week to rent.
The single mum, like thousands of others affected by Newham’s deepening housing crisis, has been in limbo for four years without a stable place to live.
She was made homeless in 2014 when the landlord of her Manor Park flat asked her to leave. No longer able to afford spiralling rents in Newham, the 37-year-old sought help from the council.
What followed have been soul-destroying years living in a B&B and cramped temporary flats where conditions have included damp and mouldy walls, shoddy electrics and mouse infestations.
It has taken a deep toll on Denise and her son Jayden, 11.
“Sometimes I just wonder when is this gonna stop,” she says. “When am I actually going to be settled? It just feels like I’m going round and round in circles.”
She is one of many families feeling the sharp end of the capital’s housing crisis.
The Recorder’s Hidden Homeless investigation has found:
- 4,892 homeless households in Newham are living in temporary flats, B&Bs and hostels.
- The figure is the highest in London and has risen 70 per cent since 2013.
- The cost to the council is huge with Newham paying £61million in 2016-17 to house the homeless in temporary accommodation.
- The annual bill has spiralled by 60 per cent in five years.
Some of this money is recouped from government but the rest comes from council coffers.
While people in temporary properties are not sleeping rough, they are without a permanent, stable home and make up by far the largest proportion of government’s homeless statistics.
Denise is grateful to have a roof over her head, but has been shocked by the condition of the flats she has been forced to live in and the steep rents private landlords charge the council.
The mum, who was working part-time as a school kitchen assistant when she first became homeless and now works for a care agency, is living in a two-bed Victorian conversion in Walthamstow rented by Newham.
“It costs too much, way too much, for what it is,” she says. “The place is definitely not up to scratch. It has got dirty carpets, when it rains I can see water seeping in through the bathroom floor, and I’m getting all sorts of bugs coming through my house. I get ants, and slugs in the bedroom and bathroom.
“A few months ago water was coming through the plug sockets and my son could hear a sparking noise. When I saw sparks flying out of the sockets I was shocked.”
The Recorder visited and saw shoddily fitted lights and plugs, broken door handles, half-painted walls covered in mould and damp, a rotting back door, and a slug in the bathroom.
“I really think it’s because the landlord is abroad in Kenya,” says Denise. “I think the agents say everything is going well and he has no way of monitoring that.”
But she believes the council should do more to vet properties and landlords before placing people into temporary flats, saying she has “been moved from one bad accommodation to another”.
Although the squalid conditions have been tough, Denise and her son have found the instability of their housing situation the hardest to handle.
Jayden was only seven when they were first placed in a B&B in Leytonstone in 2014 and then onto a one bed flat in Newbury Park, where they had to sleep in the same bed for more than two years.
“For me it was very depressing, but for my son, he started to lash out and show behavioural issues,” says Denise. “He used to be a very calm boy before but after that it just made his behaviour erratic.”
Four years later, she is no nearer to finding a home in the borough - with an eight year average wait for two bedroom council properties in Newham.
There are 27,228 households on the council housing register and 9,753 Newham council properties have been lost to Right to Buy since the 1980s.
Born and bred in Newham, Denise is reluctant to move out of London and away from her family, her son’s school, and her job in Tower Hamlets.
Without any other option, she continues to hope a council flat will become available.
“I think society has become negligent,” she says. “I think this government are about the rich people and they’re only interested if you can afford your own property in London. We need to build more council properties.
“That will give people more of a chance to get on the property ladder and then they will feel that there’s more hope for them.”
Mayor of Newham: ‘We are at crisis point. Landlords can hike up rent due to demand’
Mayor of Newham Rokhshana Fiaz said: “Soaring rents, a skewed housing market and stagnant wages are fuelling the housing crisis we are seeing in Newham and across London.
“The government’s whole approach to housing has starved local government of funds to build affordable housing, and Right to Buy is causing real problems.
“In Newham, we have lost 1,178 social rent council homes over the last eight years and it is one of the reasons why the number of genuinely affordable homes we have has declined. “Until we can change that, we have little choice but to house our residents in expensive temporary accommodation which is not ideal at all.
“The lack of social rent or genuinely affordable housing also means private sector landlords take advantage of this housing demand with many hiking up their rents to a level that many of our residents can’t afford. We are at crisis point which is why we have to tackle it head on.”
NEXT in our special series of Hidden Homeless reports: 3,000 homeless households moved out of Newham, to places as far away as Birmingham and Thurrock