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Britain’s housing crusader

Britain’s housing crusader

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This year Kwajo Tweneboa led a searing campaign exposing the squalid living conditions some people are living in, so perhaps it was no surprise when a coroner ruled that a two-year-old boy died from exposure to mould in his home

Social homes are provided by councils or housing associations and are more affordable than renting privately.

They’re also supposed to be more secure, long term places to live for people who are vulnerable or on low incomes – so they’re in high demand.

But successive governments have failed to invest in social housing, which means not enough new properties are being built to meet that demand and existing ones are falling apart.

All of that we knew at the start of the year.

But Kwajo Tweneboa has helped reveal just how badly some are falling apart and how people are being treated when they complain about the conditions they have to live in.     

Kwajo is in his early twenties. 

Just a couple of years ago he lived in a dreadful housing association flat in south London with his two sisters and their terminally ill father:

“So I moved here a few years ago with my dad, around 2018. When we moved in he was just so happy that we had a place, but it had mice, cockroaches, damp, mould, kitchen falling apart.”

Kwajo Tweneboa speaking to the Guardian

Despite repeatedly complaining to the housing association for more than a year, nothing was done. So Kwajo tried something different: he posted pictures of the mould and the damp and the cockroaches online. 

It was a last ditch attempt after years of being ignored. What he didn’t expect was for the photographs to strike a chord with thousands of people stuck in similar conditions.

In just a matter of hours, hundreds of people had commented on his post with stories of their own. They attached pictures of mushrooms growing out of the cracks in their walls, cockroaches crawling over packets of food in the kitchen, and their children’s clothes covered in green mould. 

And there was a response from the housing association too. It repaired Kwajo’s flat.

“When you publicly disgrace them and nationally disgrace them they seem to work and put things that they’re able to then complete works and prioritise tenants all of a sudden.”

Kwajo Teneboa on Good Morning Britain

The response he got from people in similar situations shocked Kwajo into action.

“I’ve fallen into the role of becoming a housing campaigner and now I do that for other people and other tenants across the country.”

Kwajo Teneboa in Channel 4 documentary

Since then, Kwajo’s spent the year going to hundreds of homes up and down the country to try to help people who are also being ignored.

He visited Jayvon, whose flat was flooded with raw sewage. Kwajo had to walk through the property with carrier bags on his feet… 

He visited Tracy, whose home was infested with mice…

“We’ve had mice for more than 10 years now. To me it sounds like a living nightmare… It makes you feel as if you’re completely unimportant.”

Channel 4 documentary

And he described a visit to a home which had a cockroach infestation…

“She often finds them burrowed in their ears in the morning and had to have a few removed. I mean it’s absolutely slum conditions that no one should be allowed to live in.”

Kwajo Teneboa on Sky News

Kwajo now has 69,000 followers on Twitter. When he posts videos he gets results. Homes are finally repaired. The people with the power to do something are finally paying attention.

Whilst the conditions that Kwajo documents shock many people, they’ll be all too familiar to the hundreds of thousands of people in a similar situation. 

 This year it was ruled that a two-year-old boy called Awaab Ishak died as a result of exposure to the mould in his own home…

“Awaab Ishak died after suffering a cardiac arrest brought on by a severe respiratory condition with one pathologist stating that fungus was found in both his blood and lungs.”

GBNews

Awaab’s death and Kwajo’s campaigning tell a similar story of social housing in disrepair and people being ignored or dismissed when they complain about it. 

People message Kwajo because they have tried and failed to get help from their landlords. For them, he is their last resort. 

Like Sarah, who lives in a house riddled with mould: 

“They don’t treat you with no dignity, going back and forth and it’s always you when you complaining you’re the problem.”

Channel 4 documentary

It’s thought that around 90,000 people are currently living in below-standard social housing, so Kwajo Tweneboa has exposed a huge problem in the sector.

Here he is speaking after the inquest into Awaab Ishak’s death.

“If it was any other sector, if this was the NHS for example and it was a doctor or nurse who had neglected their patient in this way and it resulted in a death, not only would they be struck off, there would be criminal charges. We need to see the same in housing too.”  

Sky News

When he was housing secretary, Michael Gove agreed with Kwajo Tweneboa that things need to change. 

The government has put forward legislation to improve conditions in the housing market. The Renters Reform Bill would give tenants more powers to challenge poor practice and would raise the minimum legal standard for properties in the private sector. But it’s been delayed again and again since 2019. 

Kwajo Tweneboa has pushed it back up the political agenda and has vowed to “take on absolutely anyone” in his fight for justice.

This episode was written and mixed by Rebecca Moore.