Cockroaches scuttled in every crevice, everyday more tiles would fall from the ceiling and there was mold on every wall.
These were just some of the inhumane conditions Kwajo Twenboa and his sisters endured in their flat on the Eastfield estate in Mitchum, South London, as their bed-bound father lay dying.
“No one should have to live in these conditions, especially someone receiving medical treatment, but he was,” 23-year-old Kwajo says.
“We were living with cockroaches, mice, mold, and asbestos. People trying to break into the house. It was just a complete nightmare.
“The place was falling apart. We didn’t have a kitchen, we didn’t have a bathroom.
“There were massive holes in the wall. Tiles were falling off. The bath didn’t really work. It was just slum conditions.”
Kwajo’s family moved into the housing association flat in 2018 with his two sisters and father when 10 months later in November, his dad was diagnosed with stage 1 oesophageal cancer.
He tragically died in 2020 in the home which was deemed even unsuitable for animals, surrounded by vermin and asbestos.
Of the 525,000 houses that fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard, nearly half have a category-one safety hazard – the highest category of risk to its inhabitants, according to Barings Law.
Speaking to the Mirror’s NextGen project, Kwajo says he has become inspired to tackle the UK housing crisis head-on and is more determined than ever to ensure no other young people go through what he endured.
“If I can make sure one family or one child doesn’t have to go through what my family had to go through, then I would do everything in my power to do so,” he says.
Kwajo has channeled his grief into launching a nationwide campaign, calling out housing associations and landlords who allow people to live in squalor.
“'[These are] homes from hell that no one would ever live in, but unfortunately, because of their class and background, social housing tenants are forced to live in them. And they are basically told to put up and shut up,” Kwajo says.
After a year of complaining to his housing association, Clarion, and repeatedly getting ignored for a year, Kwajo took matters into his own hands and posted pictures and videos of his flat on social media.
“It got shared thousands of times and people are horrified by the conditions we were subjected to,” he recalls.
Since then, Kwajo has become inundated with emails from people up and down the country living in dangerous and inadequate housing, seeking his help.
“I go to an estate or go to a house and you think it can’t get worse and then the next person contacts you and it does”, he says.
“I went down to Westminster to an estate directly across the road to million pound mansions. And it was absolutely falling apart.”
Kwajo recalls another tenant where raw sewage from the flat above began seeing out of their bath and toilet.
“Homes from hell is the only way I could describe it.”
Every month, Kwajo hears from around 100 people under the age of 35 to speak out against the unfathomable conditions they are forced to live through.
Many of them work long hours in the public sector.
“Teachers, doctors, nurses, key workers, the same key workers that the government were begging to go out there and save this country during the pandemic are the same ones that are living in absolute hellholes,” Kwajo says.
“They were the backbone of this country during the pandemic. And what thanks do they get? They get faeces running down their walls, damp mould, collapsing ceilings, you name it.
“It just boils my blood”.
The housing issues have a profound effect on everyone, especially young people, who are often embarrassed and ashamed at the lifestyle they have been forced to adopt.
“I’ve come across some young people, like me, on antidepressants, who suffered severe anxiety, depression and PTSD,” Kwajo says.
Kwajo fears that the damage may have already been done – and the UK’s cost of living crisis will only make matters worse.
“Not only are people dying, but the future prospects of young kids that are living in these conditions are already disadvantaged and ruined because the conditions are living in”, he says.
Kwajo says the system is completely broken. Failures upon failures are adding to the ever stretching social housing sector and to Kwajo, the issue lies within the government’s lack of long-term planning.
“What they’re doing is they’re rushing houses through, poor quality houses to address this issue and meet targets.
“And by doing that, if they think they’ve got issues now, they’re going to have issues in 10 years time when these new build estates start falling apart.
“I’ve been to estates that are only six years old and look worse than some of the houses and estates that I’ve been to that have been around for the last 70 years”.
Kwajo’s campaigning is gaining attention. He recently received a £10,000 donation from Dragon’s Den star Steven Bartlett to put towards tackling social housing.
Young people being priced out of ever owning a home
In addition to inadequate living standards, many young people also face paying overpriced rent on lower wages, which makes it even harder for them to get a foot on the property ladder.
Demi, also known as Miss Demz, was just 19 years old when she was forced to leave the family home and, like many others her age, has since gone from house share to house share.
“I’m 24 and I’m still getting my life together. I am still trying to find my place in this world. It’s not easy,” the content creator says.
She has lived in a total of four different properties including renting a single room and living in a house of six strangers.
“The first room I was renting was £525 a month. And I was working retail on a 30-hour contract and making £800 at 19. So I only had £300 for food and travel.”
Her rocky living arrangements had sent her into severe depression. And the only form of escape was often the gym or Netflix, so-called luxuries young people need to do away with if they’re to buy a property, according to people like TV presenter Kirsty Allsop.
“When I started going to the gym, it actually made me feel a lot better about myself. Netflix, as petty as it might sound. That’s some people’s form of escapism,” Demi says.
Demi says she also experiences a lot of discrimination based on her age and race.
“A lot of landlords are automatically put off by my age,” she says.
“They’re thinking, young black girls, that’s already a problem. So they’ll ask, ‘what’s your job’?
“And I’m like, ‘Sir, you have a property. I have money. We can do each other in favor here. I’m not coming here to waste your time.’ I need a roof over my head”.
Hundreds of thousands of young people across the country believe they will never own their own property, and fears have only escalated in the wake of the cost of living crisis.
Lyanna Hindley, 24, from Brighton and Hove is resigned to renting for the foreseeable future as she believes that the prospect of owning a property is “slipping away” for the younger generation.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever get onto the property ladder,” she says.
“Two or three years ago, I would’ve liked to think so. But with all the recent news about the cost of living going up, it’s just getting harder to save and more and more expensive every year.
“It’s slipping away a little bit for our generation”
Having grown up in Cornwall, Lyanna believes that it’s naive for people to assume that the problem only exists in big cities like London.
“It’s definitely countrywide. People need to look more locally and realize it’s an issue here as well. I’m from Cornwall, and even there, rent was ridiculous.
“The amount of people that live and grow up in Cornwall and have to leave because they can’t even afford to live there. It’s just crazy.”
The problem is not only affecting people in their 20s.
Phil Scully, 33-year-old a social media and content creation expert living in shared housing, says he has “no real place” to call his own.
He says: “Anybody around my age will know the difficulty of trying to get on the property ladder – we’ve spent over 10 years being told that we can’t possibly be trusted to pay off a mortgage, while simultaneously being forced to pay Twice as much each month in rent to our landlords.
“With every year that passes, it feels like moving further and further away from the reality of actually owning my own property – unless a secret really-rich relative that I didn’t know about passes away.
“While I continue to pay rent because there is no choice, I don’t see anything getting any easier and I wonder what the future will look like for my age group, when we reach retirement and there are a massive portion of us who have nowhere to call home, and become described as ‘untrustable tenants’ because we no longer have income?
“Seems like we are always one housing crisis, leading to another.”
The decline in home ownership amongst young adults is evident in figures from the Office for National Statistics.
In 2017, they found that while almost three-quarters of people aged 65 years and over in England own their home outright, people in their mid-30s to mid-40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago.
Kwajo never wanted to become an activist, but has vowed to keep on fighting until real change happens.
“I never planned to do it. If I’m out here doing it, why? Because I care. And fundamentally, that is what is needed is for the right people to care and are unfortunately at the moment they don’t.
“Housing is going to be a big, big issue when it comes up to the next general election – I’m determined to make sure it is.”
A spokesman for Clarion Housing Group said: “The issues raised by Mr Tweneboa have been fully resolved. Extensive work has been completed on his home by him, including repairs to the ceiling and the installation of a new kitchen and bathroom. He has confirmed in writing that he is happy with the works completed.
Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“In 2020, we undertook an asbestos survey in his home as is standard practice following damage to a ceiling on this estate. It was fairly common to use a material called Artex to coat ceilings when Eastfields was refurbished.
“Artex is an asbestos containing material, but it is low risk and does not need to be removed if intact. Following a leak in the property, the ceiling in one room of the property was repaired in full. Patch repairs are not recommended on this material.
“We also carried out an additional air test at the property and this test confirmed that there had been no release of asbestos and no traces of asbestos were present on surfaces or in the air within the property.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.