By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter
Living without a working toilet, persistent water leaks flooding properties and black mould coating the walls in slime are just some of the terrible conditions council tenants in South Norwood are facing.
The shocking images of walls caked in thick mould and sodden carpets broadcast on ITV News last night led to the chief executive of Shelter branding it the “worst council house conditions” she had ever seen.
They were so bad they caused a collective intake of breath when people saw them.
Croydon Council says it has now launched an investigation and tenants of the two worst-affected flats have been moved to temporary accommodation.
But the horrific scenes raise serious questions about how people could be allowed to live in such conditions in 21st century Britain, how the council failed to spot what’s happened and whether many more people in Croydon are suffering in silence.
On the day after the broadcast, we spoke to residents living across three blocks of flats in Regina Road who have also faced leaks and plumbing issues.
Marissa Henry says she has reported about 10 leaks in the five years she has lived there. Recently she says she was left without a toilet for four nights.
Her seven-year-old son has bowel problems and the pair were isolating before a planned operation at the time.
The 32-year-old said: “I’ve had 30 workmen coming in the last six months, we were having to self isolate during that time.
“There were four nights when we couldn’t use the toilet, we had to wee in a bucket and pour it down the bath and when we needed a number two we had to go to the family of my son’s dad.
“I was crying on the phone to them, that’s when they acted, I expected them to put me in a hotel. I just feel they don’t care about us here.”
Marissa said she reported a blocked sink to the council on March 17 and was told somebody would come out to fix it on May 18.
On the day we visited Marissa, workmen had arrived to take a look at the issues in her flats.
She thinks that there are problems with the pipes in the whole building which are causing the problems.
The ITV report focussed Fransoy Hewitt who lives on the ground floor with her two young sons and her upstairs neighbour Leroy McNally who have both been moved to temporary accommodation.
Fransoy first reported a leak in 2019 which worsened in December 2020 causing black mould to take over the flat and make her kitchen too dangerous to live in – the family were forced to live squashed into just one unaffected small bedroom.
Buckets in Leroy’s sodden flat upstairs filled up every six hours, he said.
And like his neighbour his carpets were soaked and walls thick with black mould.
A resident in another of the council blocks in Regina Road, who asked not to be named, told us her 14-year-old daughter’s asthma was brought on by living with damp and mould.
The 34-year-old now fears for her other daughters, aged three and six, who are developing signs of asthma too.
Two years ago, the resident of 10 years was moved out into a hostel after a bad leak in her flat but she claims the problem is still there.
“I think the problems are in the building it is something everyone complains about.
“In the lockdown it got really tough. I felt hopeless I would take them to big parks just to get some fresh air. My daughter’s asthma got worse from being inside so much,” she said.
The mum of three said she cried when she saw the plight of her neighbours on the news report.
She said she is constantly cleaning the black mould which builds up on the walls of her bathroom and in the bedroom of her daughters.
She added: “I can’t believe how they were living, when I watched the interview I really cried thinking about what they have gone through. Croydon Council don’t care about people who live here.”
Susan and Colin Pritchard, who live in the same block that was featured on the ITV report, were shocked how bad the conditions were for their neighbour.
They have lived in the block for 14 years and say that they too have experienced leaks, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Susan, 65, said: “If there was leaking like that through an ordinary roof you would expect the whole ceiling to come down. I am worried about the integrity of the whole building.
“I am appalled that that has been going on for all these months.”
Susan said that she is concerned that they could be moved if more problems were discovered at the flats.
Following the shocking revelations, council maintenance workers could be seen around the flats.
And local councillors Patsy Cummings and Clive Fraser were visiting residents.
Councillor Cummings said “words can’t describe” how she felt when she learnt of the appalling conditions on Friday.
She added: “Every one of us has to take responsibility, we need an investigation as to what happened.
“I want to find out whether it is a problem across the borough. We want to find out how it got to that stage.”
As the council faces a serious financial crisis, having to declare bankruptcy in November, there will be questions whether the situation in South Norwood was exacerbated by a freeze on non-essential spending.
Cllr Fraser disputed this saying: “The council has the housing revenue account (HRA) and all the money is ring-fenced.
“We have had issues historically with these blocks.”
At a cabinet meeting on Monday (March 22) shadow cabinet member for housing councillor Lynne Hale asked what would be done to sort the issue out.
She said: “It is unacceptable that families live in such distressing squalor. Can we have a statement regarding this appalling state of affairs and an action plan to remedy the situation as a matter of urgency?”
Council leader Hamida Ali said that she asked ‘immediately’ for an investigation to take place when the case was brought to her attention.
In a statement the council said: “It appears that the situation which is being caused by a leak in a property above has deteriorated rapidly since our contractor carried out repairs in February. We have since moved these residents out while we carry out further investigations and repair their properties.
“We are very sorry that these residents have not had the proper level of care and the standards at these homes are not what we would want or expect for any of our tenants. We are carrying out an investigation into how this has happened as a matter of urgency.”
Since the conditions of Regina Road were exposed, housing charity Shelter Tweeted: “This is an appalling example of terrible conditions people are forced to live in because of our housing emergency.
“We must build-back better with a new generation of decent social housing so families can thrive, not just survive.”
While Secretary of State for housing Robert Jenrick said he was appalled.
He Tweeted: “People living in social housing must be treated with dignity and respect. And their complaints handled effectively.
“That’s the heart of our recent Charter on Social Housing. I’m appalled by what has occurred in Croydon and will be seeking urgent answers from Croydon Council.”
Pictured top: Susan and Colin Pritchard
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