The story of Mostafa Aliverdipour, a 50-year-old wheelchair user raising his family on an estate in north London, could tell politicians plenty about what has become of the principle of social housing in our capital.
Looking out on rows of boarded-up walls and metal grilles, Aliverdipour and his four children – two grown-up sons and two young daughters – are living out of the shell of what once was Sweets Way: a leafy suburban estate of 142 properties that provided homes for military families and later, social tenants on the edge of north London for the past 40-plus years.
Since February 141 families have been evicted from the estate – each one shipped out to temporary accommodation of poorer quality and higher rent, often out of the borough. Aliverdipour, who damaged his spine while working in an old people’s home three years ago, and his children are the only ones left. For six months they’ve lived in what Aliverdipour’s son Ash describes to me as a “ghost town” – taking shifts so someone is always home if the bailiffs come.
To understand how, in a matter of months, an estate full of playing children can become a ghost town – and what sort of society would force a severely disabled man to stage an occupation of his own home – we need look to two stark failings of politics.
The first is a now familiar betrayal: at a time when central government is overseeing a crisis in social housing for people on low incomes, local authorities allow private firms to replace existing stock with homes for the rich. In December 2014 Barnet’s Conservative-led council did just this: approving a private developer’s application to bulldoze the existing Sweets Way homes and create 288 luxury flats in their place. Aliverdipour received an eviction notice four months after Barnet council moved him and his children in. They only heard their new home was going to be demolished from a neighbour – who noticed the Aliverdipour family moving furniture in when everyone else was moving theirs out. The Barnet group disputes this.
Despite piles of evidence from his GP and therapists, Barnet Homes insists Aliverdipour can walk if he uses a cane
The second failure is perhaps less familiar – but just as devastating: how disabled social housing tenants are often relocated to properties that are physically impossible for them to live in. This is a crisis across local authorities. Tomorrow, Muscular Dystrophy UK will release its Breaking Point report, giving stark insight into the number of disabled people waiting for an accessible, social housing property. As it tries to remove the last family from Sweets Way, Barnet Homes – the trading company that manages council homes on behalf of Barnet council– has offered Aliverdipour no fewer than six inaccessible houses to move into (a seventh, more suitable property, had to be withdrawn). The latest is in Enfield – miles from Aliverdipour’s doctors, his support network, and his daughters’ school. It is also a two-floor house without a stair lift, or doorways wide enough to fit a wheelchair through. Barnet Homes has agreed to make the bathroom accessible, and put up a ramp to enter the house, but nothing more. Despite piles of evidence from his GP and occupational therapists, Barnet Homes insists Aliverdipour can walk if he uses a cane.
How can anyone respond to that? The Aliverdipour family know that they are running out of options. In a final act of desperation, Ash put together a Change.org petition appealing for more suitable housing and delivered it yesterday to the offices of Barnet Homes.
The family had until 11am yesterday to accept the inaccessible Enfield property,but, as Aliverdipour could not use it, Sweets Way campaigners tell me they are in “back and forth” talks. Aliverdipour and his children are in fear of being what Barnet Homes calls ”discharged” – a particularly grim euphemism for not only removing people from their homes but also not rehousing them. When I called Barnet Homes, a spokeswoman said that it had never offered Aliverdipour a property that didn’t meet his needs. She also said that when someone refused a local authority’s offer of “suitable accommodation”, it would usually no longer have a duty to house them.
“As far as I know, by law they can break your door and drag you out the house,” Ash says. This is what social housing in London looks like, when communities are sold for profit.