‘Unacceptable’ conditions at Milo and Diagoras Houses highlight the failure of the complaints process for renters to achieve change.
Repairs are underway for residents of Milo and Diagoras Houses, without gas or central heating since September 22, but delays and a lack of response have been unacceptable, says MP Rushanari Ali.
Children fell ill and residents suffered extreme cold in two residential blocks opposite Bow Bus Garage after faults with the gas system began on September 22.
Swan, the housing association managing the blocks, provided temporary accommodation in nearby hotels for a week, but residents had to return on October 7. They were then given electric heaters and showers, along with compensation for the extra heating costs, as temporary measures. Internal repairs did not begin till October 31.
Ali, Labour Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: ‘I remain very concerned that Milo and Diagoros Houses in my constituency has been without heating and hot water for months and that residents have had to settle for temporary arrangements since then.
‘These are completely unacceptable conditions for people to live in,’ she said.
A Swan spokesperson said two days ago that works to reconnect gas cookers and replace boilers were almost complete, but some residents still await repairs.
Despite the repairs, many issues remain for those in Milo and Diagoras Houses and scores living in substandard housing across London, with mould and inadequate cladding prevalent problems.
Swan stripped combustible cladding from Milo and Diagoras Houses in early 2021, but has provided no permanent replacement since. Temporary non-combustible weatherboarding was installed that year instead, said Swan.
A resident at Milo House said: ‘They removed the cladding and left the flat [unserviced] for three years, this was before lockdown and mould was everywhere.
‘I don’t know why they haven’t dealt with the mould,’ she said. ‘I asked them to help a year ago but they didn’t do anything. They are trying, but let’s see how they will fix things because the house is a disaster now.’
Sian Smith, communications officer at the London Renters Union for Tower Hamlets, said temporary fixes do not go far enough and such problems are commonplace.
‘This is not the only case, it just happens that housing associations do not prioritise the needs of residents,’ she said.
Smith added that residents can come to the LRU for support and community action can be effective. ‘We are trying to mobilise residents within their housing associations because our ethos is – the best power is community power and people power,’ she said.
‘Often they [the authorities] listen when they see it is more than one to two people who are writing a letter.’
A Swan spokesperson suggested residents attend their bi-weekly surgeries to air their grievances, but nearly four months after problems began many will feel their calls remain unanswered.
People who lack connections with those in power and influence, or do not have the time or knowledge to take on a long-term campaign, often find the complaints process disempowering which can deter them.
Affected residents can call the mayor’s office, their housing association or failing that their local councillor, but Ali said national government must offer better support.
Smith said residents who lack a voice can seek out the LRU: ‘Helping people write letters and work out who the power holders are is what we do, and helping them access the right people.
‘There is always a bit of a blame game between the council and the housing association. It becomes a ping-pong match between them and the person that loses out is the person in the middle who needs support,’ she said.
Despite the problems, a Milo House resident is cautiously optimistic after Swan’s belated action. She said issues such as the hot water can be forgiven, but called for long-term problems such as mould to be dealt with quicker.
‘I don’t have any problem with hot water because anything can happen,’ she said.
‘You can’t find it in every country that somebody switches off your water and they pay you money, so I can’t complain about that – let’s see maybe it will improve with the mould.’
A spokesperson from Swan housing said they take reports of damp and mould very seriously and act where necessary.
With the country amid a cost-of-living crisis and thousands struggling to heat their homes, residents at Milo and Diagoras Houses hope Swan’s repairs will be permanent fixes, rather than temporary plasters, and spell the end of further disruption to their lives.
Photo credit: Butler and Stag estate agent
To speak to Swan call 03003032500
Email London Renters Union, Tower Hamlets, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To chat with Rachel Blake, a Labour Party Councillor for Bow East, email Cllr.Rachel.Blake@towerhamlets.gov.uk
For the housing ombudsman, call 03001113000
The Tower Hamlets mayor’s office can be reached at email@example.com
For more of our content on efforts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, check out this piece about Hearth Bakery’s communal oven.
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