Lucy Rowe’s son can’t stop coughing.
At night the hacking sound wakes his two brothers in the bunks below and Lucy has to help them go back to sleep.
Once they are off, she leaves knowing it will likely happen again.
READ MORE: South London’s ‘slum’ estate where living conditions are so bad bathrooms are riddled with slugs and it’s hard to breathe in the corridors
This is because her boy can’t escape the big black spores of mould next growing next to his pillow. He drifts off to sleep surrounded by the stuff.
Keeping her children away from the mould isn’t an option for Lucy, as it’s spread all over the bathroom and bedroom.
The blackened walls are just one of the many problems to have plagued Lucy’s home in the 13 years living at the High Path estate flat in Wimbledon, Merton.
Currently she’s faced with broken door handles that occasionally lock Lucy and her children in rooms, slowly melting electrical wiring fitted inches above a gas cooker, a sink that detaches from the wall and doesn’t drain water properly, and doors falling from the hinges.
It’s all made harder by the constant battle the mum-of-three faces with her landlord, housing association Clarion, to get any of the problems fixed.
Repairs are either not carried out or done to such a low standard they need re-doing.
The problems of mould in the boys’ bedroom are made worse by the fact a contractor accidentally sealed a radiator into the wall.
Lucy has been paid hundreds of pounds in compensation from the Housing Ombudsman for Clarion’s failure to fix her home, but that’s not what she wants. All the South Londoner is asking is for a decent place to live.
Legally, however, Clarion doesn’t have to provide her with one.
This is because, as My London revealed earlier this month , Merton Council and the Social Housing Regulator agreed in 2014 that thousands of Clarion residents weren’t required to have homes of a “decent standard“ as defined by government guidelines.
As Clarion plans to demolish High Path, the “ mice-infested” Eastfields estate and Ravensbury estate, authorities granted an exemption from the normal legal requirements.
Work has begun on new homes in High Path, but many residents still face years of waiting and will have lived in properties below the decent standard for decades.
For most of Lucy’s son’s life she has been promised a new home and she now knows she will wait at least five more years, by which time he will be 16, his childhood spent almost entirely in a home everyone agrees should be demolished.
“If you’re going to keep us here then it should be up to living standards and it’s not,“ Lucy told My London.
“[The constant battle for repairs] just depresses me because I like to keep my home clean and tidy.”
Lucy is far from alone in High Path in her battle to get basic repairs for her property.
My London visited the estate and spoke to numerous residents who also described being trapped in “limbo”.
Stuck in 70-year-old blocks in desperate need of repair, they can only wait as new suitable properties are slowly constructed.
It’s a battle to get anything properly fixed by contractors who are unwilling to invest in buildings which will be eventually condemned to dust.
With waits as long as seven years for moves many face well over a decade in homes that are below a decent standard.
‘You’ve put yourself in this situation’
Despite the black mould in the bathroom clearly mirroring the outline to the cracked concrete stairs the wall backs on to, Lucy claims she was accused of being the cause of the problem.
When a housing officer from Clarion came round to inspect the mould she says they told her, “You’ve put yourself in this situation” by having three children in a one-bedroom property.
This is far from the only story residents in Clarion homes have of being insulted by staff when they’d contacted them about repairs.
Another High Path resident Colette Compton says she was told “well, you have cheap rent,” when making a complaint.
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Louise Williams, who lives on the Eastfields estate , was informed she should “sleep in the bath” when she asked about moving to a bigger property because her daughter was being treated for cancer.
Getting any sort of reply from Clarion in relation to repairs is a struggle, as Lucy explained.
“At the start of June they told me they’d fix [lots of things],” she added.
“But I’m still fighting, I’ve emailed four or five times now and still no-one has contacted me.”
Holes in the floor, deaths on the stairs
On a visit to a flat in one of High Path’s tower blocks, My London discovered two holes big enough to fit a size 10 shoe in next to the kitchen.
The four-inch crevices are a serious trip hazard that must be particularly dangerous at night and could easily result in an accident.
“You would sue someone if you fell down a hole like that on the street. But we just have to get on with it,” said the resident of the property who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“A few people have actually twisted their ankles and I have to remind myself to say, ‘careful there’s a hole there‘.“
The holes in the floor were reported to Clarion two years ago and have been steadily worsening, although a contractor is supposed to be coming next month to finally fix them.
But these issues are relatively straightforward compared to the other chronic problems running throughout the tower block.
The building’s pipes are cast-iron and located in the centre of the tower. Not designed for the strain modern dishwashers and washing machines place on the system, problems frequently occur.
Fixing them is made harder because the pipes were not designed to be accessed.
None of the parts for the systems are made anymore and any solution is a stop-gap.
“There’s trouble with the plumbing, which has continued over the years, it affected my washing machine [and] I’ve had drainage problems,” the High Path resident added.
“They’re adding plastic pieces to cast-iron pipes, it’s just not going to work.”
The lifts in this 12-storey block have similar issues developing which, due to the age of the building, cannot be easily fixed.
Often weeks can pass without them working, stranding elderly and immobile residents who live on the upper levels.
“[Around five years ago] one guy even died, he slipped on the stairs when the lifts were out and hit his head. He went to hospital and when they sent him home he died of an aneurysm. He was in his late 50s,” the tower block resident said.
The constant battle to have anything repaired has left residents feeling defeated, especially when they are told things couldn’t be fixed because of the eventual move.
“I put in for a few repairs and they rejected them because of the regeneration,” the anonymous resident explained.
“I said ‘but that’s going to take over 10 years?’”
‘Why weren’t we told’
Colette Compton, a resident of nearly 30 years. feels it is a disgrace that residents were not informed about the decent homes waiver.
In her block she has been particularly concerned about the chunks of concrete which are breaking off and falling from different parts of the building.
She said: “We’ve got concrete window sills and two years ago it started falling off.
“I called someone out and said you can see the steel beams coming out where concrete is falling off.
“They told me it was not a problem and they wouldn’t do anything about it. If [the concrete] hit someone it could have killed them.
“In the end, most of it fell off and my window dropped because there was nothing outside to hold it.
“All my curtains, sofa and walls all went mouldy, my radiator went rusty. I had to literally throw it all away. But it took them another year to come and fix it.”
Colette’s problems have now been fixed, but she can see large pieces of concrete breaking and falling from other parts of the building.
She estimates she has spent roughly £3,000 replacing items damaged because of issues the landlord should have addressed, from replacing furniture to painting the flat.
This figure doesn’t include the many days of unpaid leave she has taken off work for appointments with contractors who haven’t shown up or fixed the issues.
The battle to get anything done can be exhausting, Colette explained.
To get a repair completed she has had to harass Clarion, calling numbers, writing emails and escalating the issue to senior people.
At each stage she faces a huge layer of bureaucracy which she has to navigate to make minimal progress.
“In the end sometimes you get a bit defeated, you feel like giving up and you think ‘sod it I will live in s**t’ but why should I?
“But it’s draining, it’s so draining.”
Responding to the issues raised in this article a spokesperson for Clarion Housing Group said the organisation “accept the High Path estate [homes] are coming to the end of their life, which is why the regeneration programme is underway”.
“A number of residents have already started to move into their new homes and by early next year all 134 homes in the first phase will be occupied,” they said.
The spokesperson added that “as a result of the pandemic there is a backlog of some non-emergency repairs work, but our message to residents across Merton is that if they have any outstanding work, we want to hear from them“.
Clarion also promised to undertake “additional communal inspections at High Path, to make sure we are identifying and resolving any issues”.
“Clarion has a £1.3 billion regeneration programme in Merton, which will ultimately see 2,500 new homes built for the community. In addition, we are investing over £30 million in our estates across the borough over the next five years and carrying out 500 repairs in our homes every week,” the spokesperson said.
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