Lewisham council must give more support to severely overcrowded families

Back in January, Lewisham council’s housing committee discussed including ‘statutory overcrowding’ in their housing allocations policy recognising the ‘public health impact’ that it has. Our member explains her case below and we outline why her family and many other Lewisham families in similar situations need their serious overcrowding recognised with band 2 on the housing register to allow them the urgent move they need to more spacious social housing.

We have been living in Lewisham for 8 years since 2012.  We have 2 children, they were 2 years old and 4 when we started living here in this flat. Today they are 12 and 10 years old. We join the housing register in 2014 and were placed in band 3 for council housing.

The flat where where we live is small, with only one small bedroom and below us we have a fast food business and the smoke rises a lot to our house until our house fills with smoke, the ventilation is very bad. For 6 years we are fighting with the council asking them to pay attention to us, my children have grown up and they are not small, my young son has constant absences from school due to his asthma which has not improved. In 2015 he was admitted to hospital for breathing problems. He has even developed an allergy to the constant dust that comes from the street.

My eldest son has been medically presenting problems with concentration and anxiety, and many detentions at school, difficulty sleeping, constant fights between siblings due to lack of space.  All this for us is hard to fight every day with the lockdown that we have.  Since 2013 I have been presenting neck and back pain due to the much stress that I live day by day, my health has worsened year after year today I have Osteoarthritis with severe pain and I have been dealing with depression for several years, I have had migraines since  7 years ago, and I have insomnia.  We ask the Lewisham council to pay full attention to our case, please.

Overcrowding is one of the biggest problems our members face. High private rents, benefit cuts, widespread discrimination by private landlords and a desperate shortage of council homes mean that families are forced to rent tiny studio or one bedroom flats. As well being severely overcrowded, these flats are often in very poor condition as well. Even before Covid 19, these living conditions had serious impacts on families mental and physical health. With lockdowns confining people to their homes the situation for overcrowded families has been even more unbearable. Overcrowding itself is a serious public health issue.

Our member describes her family’s situation above. The family of 4 live in a tiny one bedroom flat. They meet a legal definition of overcrowding called ‘statutory overcrowding‘ – an incredibly high level of overcrowding. She describes how the family’s health has been seriously affected by the overcrowded and poor living conditions. Her sons are growing up fast creating even greater overcrowding. As you can see from the photos, every inch of the home is used with a bed almost inside the small kitchen space positioned between the fridge and the boiler, and storage cupboards and shelves from the floor to the ceiling trying to use every bit of space there is.

Their position in band 3 on the housing register where they have been waiting for 6 years does not reflect the family’s very high housing need as ‘statutory overcrowded’ and their urgent need for a quick move due to the related serious medical problems. With the help of housing lawyers, the family applied for band 2 which would allow them the urgent move into permanent council housing that they desperately need. We are waiting for a decision from Lewisham council but Lewisham council have recently been discussing recognising ‘statutory overcrowding’ and the ‘impact on public health’ in their housing allocation policy.

Back in January, Lewisham council’s housing committee discussed a report by the housing manager on overcrowding. In the minutes, they noted: “the importance of having statutory overcrowding as an extra measure given the potential impact on public health”. In conclusion, they resolved to look into “adopting the statutory definition of overcrowding as an additional measure of overcrowding within its Housing Allocation Scheme“.

We hope they will follow up these discussions with the urgent action needed and award this family band 2 for the serious overcrowding and health conditions as well as updating their housing allocations policy by including statutory overcrowding. This would be a very welcome and urgently needed measure to recognize and support families living in severely overcrowded housing who have been stuck in these conditions for years. Lewisham acknowledged the public health impact of overcrowding before Covid 19. With Covid 19, the harmful impact of overcrowding housing has been even greater.

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