Since 2021, housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa has been travelling up and down the country visiting substandard homes, documenting the conditions and interviewing tenants. His campaigning is making a difference.
“So this is behind microwave in the kitchen there’s um some mouse droppings.”Kwajo Tweneboa, Evening Standard
That’s Kwajo Tweneboa, speaking on a video he made of his house in 2021.
He and his family had been forced to live in terrible conditions for years.
“These are the cupboards in the kitchen as you can see one’s missing and that’s been like that since before we moved in.”Kwajo Tweneboa, Evening Standard
Their housing association flat on the Eastfields estate in Mitcham, South London, had been in disrepair since 2018 when they moved in.
There was damp and mould on the walls, the kitchen cabinets were waterlogged, and the flat was infested with woodlice, mice and cockroaches.
But the state of the house only got worse. Kwajo Tweneboa contacted the housing association – Clarion – over and over again, but nothing changed.
Clarion denies not helping, but Kwajo Tweneboa says when they did respond, they sent the wrong people to fix the wrong thing.
He felt he had nowhere to turn, except to expose the failings of the local council and Clarion Housing Association on Twitter. He took pictures and videos of his flat and posted them online. And he started documenting the conditions of other properties on his estate too.
The images he collected show water pouring from ceilings, homes infested by rats and mice with walls and floors so damp that mushrooms were growing.
The story went viral. ITV news visited the estate and interviewed Kwajo Tweneboa:
“Whether you’re in social housing or not, it’s important to speak up about this otherwise it will continue to be brushed under the mat like it has for decades.”Kwajo Tweneboa, ITV news
Hundreds of people started contacting him, telling him about their homes and the awful experiences they’d had trying to get them fixed.
He knew he had to do something to help them.
So in his early twenties and still a student, Kwajo Tweneboa became a housing activist.
Here he is talking to the BBC last year:
“I find myself travelling up to uni on the coach or even sitting in my lectures and seminars and writing emails to MPs and to tenants. For me now it’s become a 24/7 thing. I don’t stop.”Kwajo Tweneboa, BBC News
Since 2021, Kwajo Tweneboa has been travelling up and down the country visiting substandard homes, documenting the conditions, interviewing tenants and posting the videos on social media.
“So I’ve just come down to a property in Birmingham after the tenant contacted me. It’s the worst case of damp and mould. You guys know I’ve been to a lot of houses but this is the worst one I’ve been to.”Kwajo Tweneboa, Twitter
Their stories are often incredibly distressing.
Earlier this month he visited a family in Birmingham, whose council flat was covered in mould.
Kwajo: “How long have you and your mum lived here?”
Tenant: “12 years.”
Kwajo: “So since 2008. And how long has the damp and mould been a problem?”
Tenant: “The damp and mould started a few years later after we moved in.”
Kwajo: “How many times have you had to complain?”
Tenant: “15 or 20 times I would say and nothing happened. They always say it’s how you live, it’s condensation.”Kwajo Tweneboa speaking to a tenant, Twitter
A woman and her disabled mother were living there and the state of the property had badly affected them:
Kwajo: “And with your mum too I guess you worry about her too because she had a stroke and she’s blind.”
Tenant: “It’s affecting her health, she doesn’t think she’ll live for much longer because of this. She thinks it’s killing her.”Kwajo Tweneboa speaking to a tenant, Twitter
It’s unbelievable that anyone should be allowed to live like this.
And really, they shouldn’t be.
There’s already legislation requiring that landlords have an “absolute and non-excludable obligation” to carry out basic repairs – that includes fixing damp and mould.
And it’s Kwajo Tweneboa’s mission to make sure that they do.
The problem Kwajo Tweneboa is tackling is a big one.
Substandard social housing is a national problem in England.
As of 2020, around half a million social homes – or 12 per cent of the total social housing stock – did not meet the government’s “decent homes” standard. That includes things like providing modern facilities and services, and the house being in a reasonable state of repair.
But Kwajo Tweneboa’s campaigning is making a difference. His advocacy for tenants has become incredibly powerful: it has forced councils and housing associations to take action.
Let’s take that Briminghcam council flat as an example.
After Kwajo Tweneboa visited the mother and her daughter and posted on Twitter about the mould in the flat, Birmingham City Council finally gave the tenants somewhere else to live.
It ended a battle that they had been fighting for six years.
Influential people have been listening to his message too.
“Well I think your work and the work of activists like Kwajo Tweneboa and others have highlighted a situation which we promised to fix four years ago and which we haven’t.”Michael Gove, ITV News
The government has said it wants to introduce legislation to make sure that complaints from tenants are acted on by housing associations.
Two new housing bills – the Renters Reform Bill and the Social Housing Regulation Bill – were introduced by Prince Charles at the opening of parliament last week.
It means social renters will be given stronger powers to tackle failings by social housing landlords and there will be regular rigorous inspections too.
Kwajo Tweneboa’s tireless campaigning has already helped dozens of families find better housing – and now he’s helping to change the law. But don’t expect him to stop there.
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