Families who found out they had been living in fire trap homes in Elephant and Castle for nearly a decade have been left devastated by news they will have to move out while cladding is removed – and still pay rent.
Tenants and leaseholders from 28 Arch Street in Elephant and Castle told the News on Monday they had clubbed together and refused offers of hotel or hostel stays until they know for sure they will be able to move back into their homes permanently, once the cladding is removed.
Three weeks ago they received a letter from L&Q explaining that, although the building’s cladding is not the same as that used in Grenfell Tower, it still needed to be ripped out, in order to comply with the government’s new fire safety regulations in the aftermath of the disaster.
Families living in Arch Street have been told to expect work to take around eighteen months – but as yet a start date has not been confirmed.
They are also expected to continue to pay rent while be rehoused at L&Qs expense elsewhere – and possibly service charge.
Ruth Reyes, who has lived in her property for nearly a decade, told the News that after the Grenfell Tower disaster she and other residents received a letter reassuring them their homes were safe and nothing else until three weeks ago, when they were all told they needed to move out.
Twenty-four-hour fire wardens are now in place, and some internal cladding has already been ripped out, despite the fact parts of the building appear to be in the middle of a new paint job.
Ruth told the News the stress and worry was taking its toll: “We have spent money on our homes, our kitchens, furniture, and now have no idea what will happen to them.
“At a meeting with L&Q their representative told us ‘I understand what it is like to be homeless’ – as if that would make me feel better!
“Am I homeless?
“As families with children, we just need to know where we are going to be living and when. I don’t even know where to get my post sent now.”
Another resident, Adam Tabed, said he was worried about parents who help others with childcare losing support networks if they are all moved to different areas.
He said he regularly checks on a disabled neighbour and fears other vulnerable people could be isolated by the moves.
The residents have been told by L&Q new homes built at Elephant Park and nearby by the housing association will not be ready in time, and there are – as yet – no confirmed plans what offers for temporary housing will be made available.
Maria Baffe has two children, aged eight and six, at nearby Ark Globe.
She said: “I don’t want to change my children’s school and I can’t imagine living with my children in a hotel or hostel for nearly two years.”
Visibly anxious, she said she was already packing even though she has not accepted any offers and has no idea when she might actually have to move out.
Ruth and the residents believe they are entitled to compensation from L&Q for living in a dangerous block for all these years, and the stress of being forced to move.
It is a particularly bitter blow for those who first came to Arch Street from temporary council accommodation elsewhere.
One of them, a mother called Isatu Jalloh, said she had been delighted with the building after arriving from temporary housing in Bermondsey.
But now, finding out the block has unsafe cladding on top of a history of heating problems and leaks, has left her vowing to fight for safe homes and a better offer from L&Q.
Showing the News the boarded up disabled lift, parts of cladding removed from inside, but fresh paintwork elsewhere, she said the stress was a huge burden to bear.
“We are going to fight it, there is no beating around the bush.
“We are not going anywhere until we are all offered homes nearby and have an agreement from L&Q when we can come back.
“We deserve compensation for this. Why should we pay rent on a home we can’t even use?
“Service charge for a service we aren’t getting?
“We never expected this, it came out of nowhere, and then we found out they have put our lives at risk for nine years.”
An L&Q spokesperson said: “We understand that the need to move is causing uncertainty for residents and we are doing everything we can to make the process as smooth as possible.
“We have recently written to all residents to explain their options and have met with most to discuss their individual circumstances.
“We continue to explore all possible solutions that meet the individual needs of residents, including any L&Q properties available locally which have not already been committed to meet other priority housing needs.
“Residents have a legal right to return to their properties when the work is completed and we will be happy to confirm this in writing.”