Who are the ‘problem’ tenants – the awkward ones who don’t make life easy for the local housing officer? Does it come down to bloody-mindedness on their part, or is there more to it? Here’s one answer, told in the life story of an East London council tenant.
Lora, 60 years old, Single Mother, Tenant of One-Bedroom Flat at Prince Regent
It was 1961 when Lora departed from her homeland, Malta, with her father and her sister, looking for a better future in the capital of the Empire, London.
‘It was a hard new beginning’, she says. ‘My mother died not long before we decided to leave Malta, and my father thought London was the place for us to have opportunities.
They lived in a hostel until they had money enough to move into a two bedroom flat in Woolwich. Only two years after the arrival, her father married another woman. ‘That was the beginning of the fall, ‘says Lora
The new wife was a divorced mother of two teenage boys, who was fairly well-off financially, but the honeymoon happiness didn’t last too long.
Her step brothers started abusing Lora and her sister, and as her father spend most of the time at work, she had to confess the abuses to her step-mother.
‘What I could not foresee is that my step mother was going to deny the harassment. She punished us for her children’s behaviour.’ It got worse, and at 13, Lora decided to escape, taking her sister with her.
‘I didn´t know where to go. We spent two or three days sleeping in Woolwich’s foot tunnel until a woman from social services took us to a shelter home.’
It was there that Lora and her sister heard that their father and step-mother were refusing to take them back; they were now to be placed at a foster family.
‘We were forced to separate from each other. My sister was placed with a different family from me, and I couldn’t take care of her anymore. We changed schools and at break time, I used to escape from my school and run to hers so I could see her and talk to her. There was nothing else I could do to get her back.’
During one of those unofficial trips to meet her sister, Lora was caught by the Head Mistress and arrested for playing truant. ‘I became unsocial and aggressive,’ she recalls. ‘My foster father begun to insult me and hit me, then he started to come really late at night and do things to me, I guess you’ll know what those things were.’
Time passed. Her twenties were a decadent period for Lora. She became addicted to drugs, and she became a prostitute in a vain attempt to support her habit. ‘I have an addictive nature and when you face that sort of situation, drugs are the anaesthetic which prevents you from hearing, seeing, feeling or thinking.’
Aged 27 she fell pregnant. The father abandoned her and the child. ‘It is the best thing he could have done. He was as addicted as me to drugs – not the best influence for me to quit and give my daughter a healthy life.’
Lora found it difficult to find a stable job. At 50 she was living in a council flat in Stratford – until the Olympics came along. ‘The council cleared me out from the house where I had spent thousands repairing. I had space enough there for my grandchildren and my two pitbulls to stay.’
But Lora says she was left homeless for weeks, with no realistic offer from the council. ‘They treated me like a piece of shit, as if I was nobody. They didn’t even give me time to take much of the stuff I paid for.’
Eventually the council re-allocated her to a studio flat at Prince Regent and she managed to get a job with Newham cleaning services, who paid her £12 per hour on a 40 hours per week contract. But six months later she was asked to leave: ‘I was replaced by two younger Polish guys who were being paid £7 an hour – cheaper than me, but I needed the job”
‘I have the feeling that Newham council sees people like me as pests. They don’t want me to live here or work here, because each time I call the housing services to ask them for another house, they reply immediately with offers of large houses outside London.
I like Newham, I loved it before the Olympics. Many of my old neighbours were moved to Kent or Rainham and I haven’t seen them since.
‘Life was so much more beautiful in Newham before the damned Olympics.’
‘Lora’ (her name has been changed) was talking to Michell Soares Gonzales.