Producing more homes resurrecting empty properties

When Martha’s landlord sold up, she found herself in a long queue for rehousing. She explains what it means to have a roof over her children’s heads and a landlord that listens. 

Martha loved her north London home, but when the owner decided to sell, the teaching assistant and her three children had to move on.

‘You make your life, then the landlord wants to sell and that’s the end to the life your children have had all that time,’ she says.

Martha’s story is a classic illustration of the vagaries of London’s social housing sector. Hammersmith & Fulham Council in west London is responsible for housing her, but a shortage of accommodation in the borough meant that, in 2016, they placed her in north London. 

The 2-bed flat was meant to be emergency accommodation, but she stayed for seven years. She worked, paid the rent, and looked after the flat while her children grew from toddlers to pre-teens. And then, earlier this year, she was given notice to quit and saw, up close, the ferocity of the competition for social housing.

‘Thousands of people are bidding online,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes, you can see 300 people wanting to see a house, but no-one’s getting housing because there is no housing. Everyone’s just in the system.’

Martha’s family was assessed as having medium priority, so they weren’t at the front of the queue, but at least they had a fighting chance of getting something. She speaks with compassion of those ineligible for local authority help who have to fend for themselves. 

Invited to view a 2-bed flat in northwest London, managed by Cromwood, Martha hardly dared to hope. When the news came that she’d got it, she was overjoyed. The family moved in May 2023.

‘The accommodation is excellent,’ she says. ‘If I’m here for the next five or six years, my daughter can finish secondary school. After that, we’ll see.’ As this is also temporary accommodation, there are no guarantees but, for now, the family can breathe. 

The new location means that Martha had to change jobs and it takes her two youngest (aged 10 and 12) longer to get to school. However, she’s now employed in a better school with extra paid holidays, and she’s impressed with the way that Cromwood manages the property. 

When she first moved in, the flat contained a small fridge in a poor state of repair, and the pressures of working while raising a family meant that having little space for fresh food was a major headache. 

‘I wasn’t happy. I explained that I’ve got three kids, I work. The fridge door didn’t close properly so food rotted very quickly and there was no veg box on the bottom because it was broken. I said, I can’t live like this, I need to have the fridge full because I work and don’t have time to cook every day.’

Cromwood spoke with the property owner who got her a new, large fridge. They also arranged for the old one to be legally disposed of. It might seem like a small thing, but it has made a huge difference. 

Reflecting on the quality of her accommodation and the way it’s managed, she says, ‘It’s perfect.’