Housing Association Neglects Their Responsibilities To Tenants; What Happens When it Affects Your Mental Health?
Leading UK Social Housing Association’s neglect is causing my young Black family severe physical and mental health concerns.
Jade Sullivan is a Writer and Black Activist, Freelance Marketing & Advertising Consultant, Stylist and Founder of The New Ancestors UK Collective, and Outreach Manager at Brixton Finishing School.
Jade Sullivan writes about how one of the UK’s largest housing and care providers, Sanctuary Housing, has been neglecting her young family. The Sullivan family have been suffering from a widespread bedbug infestation and mould outbreak for nearly four years.
I live in a Sanctuary Housing property in Pimlico, Westminster, London, with my husband and three children, boy/girl twins, age 10 and our 7-year-old daughter. There is a social stigma attached to living in social and council housing. I want to say that I never wanted to live in social housing.
My parents owned their home, and I never thought of myself as needing social welfare until, unfortunately, life events determined otherwise. Yet, we are where we are, and this is my story.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. By definition, I have long periods of extreme highs and, equally, extreme lows in my daily life. Or is life a rollercoaster, stress sometimes bubbles over, and we have to learn to deal with it?!
This current long-running deplorable housing situation is one of the most extreme lows I have ever had. I’ve been through a lot, causing me, my family, and my young children unexplainable daily stress. Not to mention emotional, mental and physical harm to our health.
When I was 25, I had a Bipolar Disorder high manic episode. This resulted in me being sectioned under the mental health act. Luckily, I had private health care because I worked in the music industry. Many issues led to the manic episode, like a boiling point of many problems in a cauldron that bubbled over, causing an emotional breakdown. I recall being specifically disillusioned with how Black artists and myself were treated within a predominantly white industry. White managers at the top exploited the talents of Black youth and culture yet failed to support them when faced with the harsh realities of being Black in Britain.
I was made homeless and applied to Westminster Council for housing. In 2003, I was referred to Sanctuary due to their housing stock in Pimlico and my family’s links there. We started in a one-bedroom basement flat.
We happily then discovered we were having twins after many miscarriages and multiple invasive IVF treatments unsuccessful on the NHS. We had to resort to expensive private IVF treatment; our house deposit money was spent on this. I was told by Sanctuary Housing that there was no chance of moving and that the waiting list was at least 12 years.
Through my persistence, when the twins were one year old, we were moved around the corner to a two-bedroom flat on the 2nd floor with four flights of stairs (try carrying twins and a double buggy up those stairs!).
On top of this, I was also awaiting a hip replacement. As soon as we were in, I was again campaigning (a running theme of my life) to get moved.
In 2019, when the twins were seven and my youngest three, we were finally moved.
Not long after moving in, I started to suspect something was not quite right with the building. I remember when being shown around different properties by the housing officer, smelling damp and the wooden floor in the dining room was sodden with a pungent damp smell. I recall instantly raising this with the officer, and her response was,
“we don’t deal with floors; you have to sort out flooring yourself”.
I have always said, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” and I’ve never given that saying any more thought, but now I know exactly what that means. I soon discovered we weren’t the only ones with this problem. On speaking with a neighbour on the top floor, he confirmed that he had been complaining about bedbugs for two years before moving into Sanctuary Housing, as he was getting bitten, scarring his skin.
We have now been decanted into temporary accommodation on three occasions. The most extended period was over Christmas last year to allow for work (for the second time) on dampness and mould. This took approximately three months during a time you want to make your home special for your children to wake up to on Christmas Day. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. The bedbug infestation is so bad that on the upper floors, the old lady sees them crawling down the wall and hoovers them up in the middle of the night. The other old lady has bedbugs all over her flat, even in her freezer. We live in the basement and the first floor, getting bitten constantly.
I contacted the award-winning journalist Nadine White. After hearing our story, she wrote an article about our ongoing battle, in The Independent. Sanctuary is still largely ignoring us. When I last spoke to the Housing Officer, he stated he hadn’t even bothered to read the article, despite it being written nearly a month ago?! They have not done anything properly in my 20 years of living with them. Dealing with anyone within the management team is like banging your head against a brick wall. I have had more housing officers than I’ve had hot dinners.
The effect on my mental health and depression has been immense. I’ve even resorted to asking my doctor for medication I haven’t been on for over 10 years; I felt so hopeless and depressed. Sanctuary Housing has ignored other residents with physical and mental health problems within this block and me. I have a file of photo and video evidence from myself and all of the residents. The bedbugs continue to feast on us; humans are their food source. My husband has asthma attacks. I believe that it’s also affecting his high blood pressure, as it’s higher than usual. I put clean clothes into drawers and wardrobes, and mouldy, damp ones come out. As I type this, I cry. It’s like living in a horror movie that I can’t turn off. I’m literally living in The Upside Down from Stranger Things! I feel ignored, I feel angry and frustrated. I’ve hardly slept an entire night in approximately 70 days following a much-needed holiday. After six months of severe depression, I plucked up the strength and courage through the pure shame of living under these conditions. It makes you feel dirty knowing your children are scarred with bedbug bites. It doesn’t make you feel human. A mother’s job is to protect her children.
To solve these issues, I’ve created an email list of approximately 15 people in “high places”. These include local councillors, Conservative and Labour. My doctor has provided medical evidence, and I have been in touch with a Social Prescriber. They help people in need by linking them up with appropriate services. They have introduced me to Shelter and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, which has recommended me to a solicitor (but who is yet to call me back). Managing this whilst having three young children, a part-time job, and multiple creative projects is far too much for anyone. Let alone someone with high-functioning bipolar disorder. I was advised to contact my local MP, Nickie Aitken, and the Charity Commission directly. They are responsible for funding Sanctuary Housing and must live up to their requirements- to provide adequate shelter for needy families. MP Nicky Aitken’s office got back to me the following day. They wrote a hard-hitting letter directly to Craig Moyle, Chairman of Sanctuary Housing. He has worked there for 30 years and earns £350,00 per year. (Interestingly, a Channel 4 dispatches episode aired on him in 2019, investigating his residencies).
The last information I’ve been given is that they plan to spray weekly treatments for the next six weeks. This means we would be packing up to hotels weekly for six weeks. A logistical nightmare. As a mother of twins, now 10 and on their Secondary school journey, I’m currently writing school applications, times two for twins. No wonder that the other day I had a crying, exhausted breakdown outside my children’s school. Knowing the situation, the head and deputy head teacher came to the rescue and were very supportive.
So where am I, and us as a family today? Same shite different day! Radio silence from Sanctuary Housing. As said, their last suggestion was spray treatments weekly for six weeks. No update on dampness and mould. I want a regular home, a real “Sanctuary”. Somewhere the children can play, be happy and have a happy mum and dad. I can write in peace, live like an average person, without being woken in the middle of the night from being bed bug bitten and breathing in damp and mould spores. I hope this will be resolved without me having to do any more fighting, begging, pleading and being ignored.
Why am I sharing this with others? I believe this is a countrywide issue that could cause dangerous levels of severe mental and physical health breakdowns and disrupt family structures. The stress of social housing, when it’s bad, can reach levels of suicidal thoughts. My heart breaks to see mentally and physically ill people on the news dealing with damp and mould issues. The only reason the housing association acts on it is that they are filmed for TV. So, I’m speaking for the people without a voice. Simple as that. This is not fair, this doesn’t seem right, and this is not equal rights for all.
Editors- Sareta Fontaine & Stef Castellon, Copywriter/ Editor
The views and opinions expressed within this post are solely the author’s. They do not reflect the views and beliefs of Women Who Rebrand–#WWR or its affiliates.
The views and opinions are solely their own current opinions regarding events and are based on their own perspective and opinion – it is the opinion and perspective of the author.
Such views, opinions, and/or perspectives are intended to convey a life story, are based on recollections about events in their lives on which conflicting memories may exist, and are not intended to malign any individual or company.
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