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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Eviction crisis: Vulnerable residents left without options as Ealing Council defends controversial decision

Mother says she doesn't know where to go after council ends duty of care over her

Over recent months the shipping container estates of Meath and Marston Courts have been making national headlines. Labelled ‘modern slums’ and ‘shameful shanty towns’ by politicians, residents and the media alike, Ealing Council opted to close the sites with public promises that mothers who have been living in the ‘inhumane’ and sometimes dangerous conditions would all be given safe alternative accommodation.

Since this declaration, the council has hosted an extraordinary meeting to address the concerns of residents and scrutinise how mothers could remain in conditions where crime, damp, cockroaches, faulty utilities, and violence were rife for so long. While residents of Marston and Meath Court were often informed their situation was a temporary solution to housing shortages many ended up trapped in the estates for years on end.

For many, their suffering was only tolerable due to the knowledge that one day they would receive something better. Thanks to the sites’ closure that is becoming a reality for a few, however, it is not the case for all.

Paula Alexandru, is a mother of two. She has lived at Marston Court for almost two years. She has been attacked by drug dealers who would regularly use the estate’s lack of security to carry out illicit deals.

Paula Alexandru and her children Image: LDRS

She has dealt with regular bouts without hot water, cramped conditions, infestations and the mental pressure of living in a state where she feels constantly unsafe. Unlike her neighbours, Paula did not receive a letter telling her that she would be offered alternative accommodation, instead she was told that the council was relinquishing its duty of care effectively evicting her.

Despite several attempts to get the decision reviewed, and multiple pleas to the Ealing councillor in charge of housing Bassam Mahfouz, the council has remained firm. Paula tells Local Democracy Reporting Services that she is scared of what happens next.

“I don’t know where I’m gonna go next. What’s going to happen to me and the kids,” she said before adding: “After all this suffering in here in Marston Court, after they pushed me, they forced me to get in here and after everything that I have gone through they want to take me out and the kids into the street or whatever.”

The mum says she sits in her home with much of her possessions already packed in fear that bailiffs will swoop in and kick her out. While others are rehoused around her with the latest figures from the council saying that of 94 households at Meath and Marston Court 41 are still waiting to move, Paula will not be one of them.

Instead, she says she has been informed that social services will step in to provide her with a hotel room for a short time to ensure her 10-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter do not become homeless. To Paula, even this small bittersweet mercy seems more like a curse.

“[Ealing Council want to] put me in a hotel room f***ing out somewhere like Leeds they told me,” she said. Being moved out of London would affect everything about her children’s lives including their schooling and social relationships.

She added: “Like, do I need to go back to square one again? I don’t know where I’m gonna go next. What’s going to happen to me and the kids?

“They want to make my life worse, like by not caring, not helping, not empathising, and being supportive in any way. It’s just I hate it. I hate Ealing Council.”

Her frustration stems from what she sees as a mix-up back in April 2023 when she was offered to go view alternative accommodation but was told by the landlord she would not be accepted because she had a dog. According to Paula, this was taken as a refusal by the council which then ended their duty of care.

Paula and her dog Image: LDRS

However, she said it wasn’t her but the landlord who refused her and has challenged the council relinquishing its responsibility over her. There are also concerns about ‘overcrowding’ a term used to refer to when a living situation is deemed to be too small for a certain number of people.

In this case, Paula’s 10-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter currently share a room, something that is unlikely to change if the council move the family into a hotel. The Housing Act 1985 says that children of opposite genders over the age of 10 should not share a room and if they do this could be considered ‘overcrowding’.

Despite being directly asked by LDRS how the council will avoid breaking the law, the council has not responded. It did, however, clarify its reasons for ending its duty of care over Paula.

A council spokesperson said: “Ms Alexandru is being evicted from flat 26 Marston Court because we no longer have a legal duty to provide housing for her.

“Our legal duty to provide housing for Ms Alexandru ended in April 2023 when she refused an alternative offer of accommodation. Ms Alexandru appealed this decision, but the council’s reviews team upheld the initial decision, and on 31 October, our legal duty to provide housing for was confirmed to have ended.

“Ms Alexandru has been made a number of accommodation offers, all of which she has refused. We believe that all the properties we have offered, including a first floor three-bedroom flat in Greenford, have been entirely suitable and we are disappointed she has refused them. In addition to this, we have also offered to support Ms Alexandru in the search for an affordable property in the private rented sector.”

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