Joanna Morrison and Love Lane

The families living on condemned estates

Did you see the ITV investigation about families living in appalling conditions in council housing? A couple of years ago, I reported a story for the Guardian about families forced to live on council sites slated for demolition – or go homeless. Reporting that story broke my heart. I still remember a confused old lady, the last tenant on her block in South London, living in a crumbling flat with watermarks halfway up the wall and wet floors.

The stories in this newsletter are mostly about change. But eighteen months since we met, little has changed for Joanna Morrison, a support worker, who has been bringing up two young children in a one-bedroom council flat in Tottenham, North London. Joanna grew up in this part of London. Now, priced out of the area, she is among hundreds of other households in council-owned temporary accommodation on Love Lane, in between the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium on one side and White Hart Lane station on the other. In June, these families will cast the final vote on a sweeping new scheme called High Road West that will mean the destruction of their own homes to connect the station to the stadium, encompassing 2,500 new flats, just 30 per cent at so-called affordable rent. This month a legal representative from their residents’ group, TAG Love Lane, has sent questions to the council to try and confirm once and for all what will happen to them if they vote for the regeneration.

Interviewed on September 4, 2019

On the 12th of September, we're going to put questions to Haringey Council about what they plan to do with temporary accommodation residents.

What we want is permanent homes. Permanent homes at social rent in the immediate area.

Meanwhile, we have been getting letters through. The council tries to sound friendly. They say: “This is the MoveOn team here, to provide you with advice and assistance about your options to help you move from temporary accommodation to settled accommodation. And you have a named officer that will be working with you around your house and options,” and so on and so forth. 

My initial problem with this letter is that I moved onto the estate three years ago, back in 2016, when Haringey cabinet was changing. For three years, I've literally had nothing. And this is possibly probably the first letter of its kind to come through. In essence, this is trying to tell you to move out the area out of Haringey to make it easier for them.

Why did they move over 180 families onto an estate that they know they’re going to demolish? What is the purpose of that?

If you come to the estate, you will see there is a community that is broken, because they haven't looked after people for such a long time.

Now you brought a whole bunch of people from different parts of the area, put them on to this estate without telling them it’s part of the regeneration. The proposals for the regeneration started in 2014, so I thought I’d be here for a short time and be moved on. But there was no indication when I was handed the keys that this was a demolition site. I didn’t even get to see the property. I came onto the waiting list for a council house after 2012, so there is no guarantee I’ll get a permanent tenancy. The waiting list is seven or eight years for a a two-bed. 

A year and a half in, I got a letter and that’s when I realised the council had put us on a demolition site.

It causes a lot of anxiety for me. My daughter, when we made the move, was six months old, she's now three. So she's going to start school next September. Our problem is, if we start school just around the corner, and they say, “Okay, well, we're going to move you outside London to Hertfordshire or Essex,” that disrupts her education, it disrupts our both of our works, it disrupts our lives. And we don't want that to happen to anybody. As human beings, we have every right to have a choice where we should live, and how that should happen.

Because of the work of the residents group, TAG, the council has had to rethink what they’re going to do. Some people even thought this was their permanency tenancy, until TAG came to tell them that’s it’s going to be demolished. TAG is campaigning for secure permanent accommodation for people living in temporary accommodation on Love Lane at council rents.

I'm personally not against the regeneration. It's just the fact you have to look after those out there first before you do anything else.

And especially people who have lived in Haringey for generations, they've got their foundations, their families, they've been there forever. Why would you then want to uproot them somewhere they don't know, where there's no there's no sense of community? 

Interviewed on March 15, 2021

I’ve worked through the whole pandemic. It’s given me a form of peace, because I’m not at home the whole time. The first lockdown, it was normal. But the second time around I’m just over it. I have anxiety – I feel really down, I just want to see friends. But I’m pleased to be working. I’m a key worker, I work with adults and young people with learning difficulties in the community. I’ve been having to help some of them find counselling because some have fallen into depression because they have lost people with the virus. My mum lives in Wood Green, so she took my kids for a couple of times a week this time round.

Haringey Council are sending us a lot of paperwork. One of the thing they mentioned is if you have been on the estate for more than a year you are eligible for a council house. But the reality tells a different story. Eligibility is about more than being on the waiting list for a year. There are 3000 people on the waiting list, so actually there is no guarantee. The question is, why can’t you just give me my permanent tenancy somewhere, then I can move to another area of Haringey knowing I am secure and my family is secure? But they still don’t want to do that, they want to push us into private rented accommodation or out of Haringey and they will not say it. They are pressuring me into something that is not in black and white.

I feel it’s very devious of Haringey Council to use people in the community who are key workers, mothers and fathers, and treat us like numbers and not as people.

A lot of people around me have gone through depression. When I was head of TAG and learning what was really going on, I was thinking, why would you treat people like that?

They are putting the developers interests before the people as we've seen on many other estate regeneration sites around the country.

I’m on the ninth floor of a nine-floor building. When the lifts go down, I walk up and down those stairs. When I was eight months pregnant, I was dragging my daughter’s buggy up and down. Sometimes you find out if the lift works by pressing the button. There are residents who are disabled who need it to be accessible to get downstairs, and sometimes it’s not available.

Recently I had a problem with my tap and it caused a leak. My tap was non-stop running. I reported it a week before. I saw the water going down to my neighbour’s flat. They wanted me to take time off work so they could sort it out. I had no hot water for four days and my gas bill went up. We were boiling water on the stove like we were in the 1800s. Sometimes things get so bad, someone’s life has to be threatened before they will come out. 

I grew up in a council house in Wood Green, but I was there all my life and that stability helped me. I’ve become a mother and I can’t offer my children stability.

The council are throwing paper at me, to try and get me to vote yes in the ballot, but there is no guarantee of a home. It is a very frustrating time. We have so many good people on this estate who are kind and genuine, but people are fed up. They need to put into writing exactly what temporary residents of Love Lane will receive. From my understanding, for me to get a two-bed or whatever, I have to be on the waiting list for seven to eight years.

We need a guarantee of a permanent home before the ballot and to see if the regeneration team and the council will start to listen to the residents. 

I think they think people on this estate are stupid because there are people who don’t speak English as a first language. TAG are continuing to be the residents' true voice. They are sharing information to help people understand what the regeneration team is sending through our doors. They are trying to make it plain and clear and trying to guide residents to make the right decision.

Of course what the council want to do may be good for the area. But how many of the residents will still be here, how many of the businesses will still exist? You can put up a shiny new building and the problems will still be there. You have to invest in the people and the communities.