'I can’t answer that question': Council leader can't say if 'unliveable' housing conditions aren't wider Croydon problem

The appalling state of two south London flats dubbed the "worst housing conditions ever seen" could be replicated in other tower blocks within the same borough.

On Monday, ITV News revealed the dangerous squalor Croydon residents have been living in, despite repeated calls to the council for repairs.

Since 2019, residents of the block on Regina Road in South Norwood have been complaining to their landlord, Croydon Council, of leaks in their flats - leaks that made their homes uninhabitable.

Pressed on how widespread the problem could be, council leader Hamida Ali admitted she cannot know for sure there aren't other tower blocks dealing with the same issues.

"All 16 of the similar blocks in the borough will be reviewed and looked at as part of this inquiry," she told ITV News.

"It needs to be very quick, I’ve asked for it to be completed within two weeks and we absolutely need that confidence.

"I can’t answer that question here and that is not acceptable and that is precisely why this action is being taken."

Cllr Ali was asked five times if she is personally ashamed to be leading a council that presided over these living conditions.

Finally, she admitted she is.

In one of the more concerning allegations raised to ITV News, Leroy McNally, whose flat is covered in mould and damp, said he believes racism may be behind the council's slow response.

He said: "I'd say 'my name's Leroy, Leroy McNally' and I got a feeling that puts them on the off-foot because straight away they're (thinking) 'Leroy - black person, we don't want to deal with this person'. "Eventually I started saying my name is Mr McNally - I wouldn't say Leroy - and I got a better response."

To this, Cllr Ali said: "That's a really concerning experience that Mr McNally has shared, I would want that to be part of the inquiry that we do to to understand exactly what has happened.

"And that that will need to be addressed as part of the inquiry. That's a really shocking experience that he's shared."

Fransoy Hewitt, who was moved from her accommodation into a hotel on Friday, has not been contacted by Cllr Ali since her move and she fears "being forgotten about".

Asked why she has not called Ms Hewitt, Cllr Ali, who has spoken to Mr McNally, said "One of the issues that I'm going to be raising is making sure that we are in contact with our residents to understand exactly what their experiences and to make that as comfortable as possible in the in these horrific circumstances."

See the appalling and dangerous conditions some people in a tower block in Croydon have been forced to live in for months

Despite Ms Hewitt, who lives on the ground floor with her two sons, aged five and seven, contacting the council in October 2019 to inform them of a leak in the flat, it took media coverage for her to be removed.

Even with constant calls to the landlord - she got nowhere until ITV News showed this footage to Croydon Council and they sent inspectors in and moved the family out the same day.

With two children , her hotel accommodation is small and impractical and she still has questions that remain unanswered.

Ms Hewitt said: "I don't know how they're going to eat and I can't even wash clothes. "For too long I've been complaining and nothing happened and then just like that they want to respond because the media got involved. "They want to be like 'oh we're urgently getting them out of there and putting them into temporary accommodation'. At the moment, I don't know how long I'm going to be here. "I do worry that I'll be forgotten about here."

Croydon Council has begun an investigation into the treatment of residents in this tower block as the prime minister said there are "questions for them to answer".

But ITV News has been sent example after example of people living in poor quality, dangerous homes from across the country with severe leaking , black mould , damp ; with complaints made to landlords but very little done about it. Abigail Ahuka lives with her two children, a five month old and five year old, in a flat in Lewisham. Black mould and damp appeared six months ago and started spreading across the flat . Despite persistent calls to her housing association , it remains, so she's began bleaching the walls herself.

Ms Ahuka worries for the health of her children due to the black mould in her flat. Credit: ITV News

She told ITV News: "It's making me really feel depressed because we're already going through a hard time because there's a pandemic going on and it's making me feel more unwell then I already am. "I really feel worried for the health of my kids. It's just not a nice position to be in.

"I contacted my landlord who have done nothing about it. It's been a case of me having to chase them up on something they should be taking seriously and they have not."

The soaking wet carpet in Fransoy's flat. Credit: ITV News

It's a story Ms Hewitt knows well.

She returned to her flat on Tuesday to collect clothes for her boys, no longer forced to live like this - but knowing others, elsewhere still are.

In statement to ITV News on Monday, a spokesperson for Croydon Council said: “We were very concerned to learn of these issues at these properties, and the photographs we have seen show conditions that are clearly not acceptable.

“We are sorry that these residents have not had the level of care for their homes that they rightly expect, and we will be looking into what has happened as a matter of urgency.” 

Croydon Council declared bankruptcy in November 2020. The council denied the continued disrepair at Regina Road was linked to their current financial situation.

If you have a story to share about housing conditions, email housingstories@itv.com