WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

CityWest Homes looks upon us as sub-human

06 July, 2018

• FOR anyone who has watched the BBC’s examination of all that led up to the horrific Grenfell fire, it is clear that for years, not just with regard to the cladding but to every repair and amenity the residents needed, the attitude of Kensington & Chelsea council, and of the company managing their social housing, was one of total contempt.

The tenants were told they were lucky to live in that area “for nothing”, and it was this arrogant attitude towards what were regarded as sub-humans that ultimately resulted in the worst fire since the Blitz.

For anyone who imagines things are different in Westminster, let me introduce the appalling CityWest Homes.

This was once, for all its flaws, a responsible organisation with an accessible management, which has been destroyed, stripped not only of its estate offices but the managers in them, and the entire contactable, responsive middle and upper management whom residents could reach for assistance; leaving us with only a call centre who know nothing and do less.

There are social housing tenants and those who have paid sky high market prices to become leaseholders, as properties have passed long since from their original Right to Buy purchasers, or those hapless people who pay crippling rents to owners.

We all, living together in blocks like ours in Dufours Place, suffer the same losses of lift service, of hot and cold water and heating, the same misery, with no one to turn to for help.

The way things would be showed its ugly face in January 2017, following the loss of the Soho Estate Office, when contractors began what was supposed to be a lift upgrade, and promptly turned off both lifts in our tower block, leaving a crowd of residents in the freezing foyer. The following morning they did the same thing again.

And this was followed by repeated and often weekend-long lift failures that left people completely stranded.

Anyone who couldn’t manage the climb was forced to stay in at the weekends because of the risk. Eventually the contractors walked away from the job and engineers had to be called out for the rest of the year, dealing with breakdowns.

In the late autumn I kept losing my electricity supply, and reporting it did no good. I was told all I needed was an electricity test, for which I must wait weeks.

But having been left for hours in darkness, unable even to make a hot drink, I was eventually promised that someone would attend before the weekend. No one arrived.

That Sunday night, when all power went again and an electrician finally appeared, he told me I had to evacuate my flat. The fuse box had failed completely. It was 11pm on a cold night and only weeks since I’d had a major operation.

At that time there was still someone in the management structure who had promised to keep in touch. And a friend living nearby, whose spare room was empty, came to rescue me and carry everything I couldn’t manage into the night to find a taxi.

Thanks entirely to the one person in CityWest who’d kept their promise, my fuse box was replaced over hours the following day.

A few days later an independent fire safety officer came to assess my flat for the possible fitting of sprinklers, and I told him what had happened. He changed colour. The faulty fuse box could have gone up in flames at any time, and me with it – the fuse box was between me and my flat door.

The only representative of CityWest who had done anything about that situation has gone now, along with everybody else we used to be able to contact.

In the bitterest depths of November we lost our heating and hot water from a Friday onwards throughout the weekend, contractors couldn’t deal with the problem, and a temporary boiler was set up outside the building: a first, in over 50 years.

A few weeks ago, at only an hour’s notice, they turned off our mains drinking water, and the next day, again at an hour’s notice, did the same to our hot water and entire bathroom supply, both hot and cold.

Shortly afterwards the weather became wintry and I tried to turn on the heating, but there was none. I discovered later it had been drained down “for the summer”.

Years ago we voted for year-round heating which we’ve had ever since, like our neighbouring block, Kemp House. But although, when the same mistake was made at Kemp House, the heating was restored, none of our complaints has had any result. The blank wall that is now CityWest Homes is impenetrable.

The fact that there must be records of our year-round heating dating back years makes no difference. And after all, like those who lived in Grenfell Tower, we don’t matter. In Westminster, as in Kensington, we are regarded by our management company as sub-human.

ALIDA BAXTER
Dufours Place, W1

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