HOUSING SCANDAL: Families fight for decent, safe accommodation for their children 

By Bill Heaney

It is a scandal that has been exposed repeatedly in the local press and media for more than 50 years, although nothing has been done to resolve the issue which is ongoing.

Gemma Ewing has bitterly criticised West Dunbartonshire Council over the black mould which is prevalent in her Overburn Crescent home in the old Orlits scheme near the golf course and the BBC’s River City site and is putting her children’s  health at serious risk.

One of the children’s fingers turned blue with the cold in the damp council house.

The nightmare filthy black mould and poor heating in plummeting below zero temperatures in their flat-roofed jerry-built Orlits council house has caused Gemma, who lives with partner Thomas Burrows, to require hospital treatment.

She told a local newspaper that she and three of her four children, aged six and 16 months old twins, were suffering from breathing difficulties, and claims this is due to the cold, damp home they were allocated by the council.

Gemma’s mother, Yvonne Clark, is demanding that the council take responsibility for the situation and come up with a remedy for it.

She told one reporter investigating the situation: “Both my grandson and the twins have been in hospital with bronchitis.

“My grandson had to be taken to hospital because he woke up screaming. He was cold to touch.

“The hand of my 16-month-old granddaughter is blue because there isn’t an effective heating system in my daughter’s house to allow her to keep her four children warm enough, which in turn, is creating an environment that is allowing the black mould to spread, and the illnesses that go along with this.

“This week alone my daughter and three out of my four grandchildren have been put on antibiotics as they cannot shift their illness. And my 16-month-old grandson has been put on an inhaler and had to attend the sick children’s hospital due to his temperature dropping to 34.4.

“Her six-year-old son, on the autistic spectrum, is refusing to sleep in his own bed because of how cold it is. This should have been sorted before now.”

The appeal from Ms Ewing and Mrs Clark comes just weeks after West Dunbartonshire councillors unanimously backed a call for extra safeguards to be put in place to combat the mould crisis.

In an email to the council, Gemma Ewing complained: “It is evident that the council did not clean the existing black mould prior to covering it up with wallpaper.

“This is a complaint because this issue was evident before being given this tenancy, and the council chose not to deal with the issue effectively.

“I was notified of this tenancy months before I was actually given the house, so there was, more than ample time to address this correctly.

“I am not willing to allow sub-standard housing to affect the health of myself, my partner and our children, and I expect to hear from you with the agreement for all of the above to be carried out timeously.

“The works order states the finished wall will be painted/papered, with no mention of plastered. You are NOT papering over it. You’ve already tried to cover it up once.  You are a disgrace.”

Yvonne Clark added: “They (the council) hadn’t secured the house yet and I walked in and videoed it, the whole house was an absolute mess. It was covered with mould. All they did was cover it up with disgusting wallpaper. They threw the house together to cover it up.

“On the day she was to move in, she was half moved in, and she had to move back to her old place because the person who was to sort her meter out hadn’t done it.  The heating supply was all used up from the previous tenant.

One scheduled repair had been done but the rest were still pending.

“There has been a repair put through on one wall, and the remaining ones don’t seem to be getting done. I believe it is rising damp.”

Yvonne added: “We have put through complaints before on the heating system. The council got a survey done by City Technical Services, who advised that the house required double panel radiators in every room because it is a concrete build, flat roof with no insulation.

“The council disregarded this survey even though they asked for it and put in one double panel radiator in the living room, with single glazing radiators in the rest of the rooms.”

Gemma claims there have been numerous other problems in the house, including her bathroom flooring having to be replaced, due to a leaking bath, and her rent payment is  not being sorted correctly, resulting in her becoming hundreds of pounds in arrears.

A West Dunbartonshire Council spokesperson told one journalist [they refuse to speak to The Democrat] : “We are sorry this tenant is unhappy with the service.  While this issue was not noted by the tenant on her entry to the property, as soon as we were made aware, it was treated as a priority.

“We have been unable to resolve this as quickly as we would have liked, and there have been cancelled appointments from the tenant, but we are liaising closely with her, and all necessary repairs, including replacement of radiators, installation of an additional radiator, and dampness treatments, have been scheduled for early next year.

“We will continue to provide support and assistance until this matter is fully resolved.”

Old Orlits flat-roofed houses are past their sell-by date, riddled with damp and unfit to house families with children

By Bill Heaney

Confirmation that a large number of houses in the old Orlits council estate near the golf course at Broadmeadow in Dumbarton are unfit for purpose poured out on social media this week.

This flood of comment flagged up the dangers of black mould and dampness, which local families are having to endure through one of the worst winters in local memory, makes it clear that it will cost West Dunbartonshire Council £millions eradicate.

The worst case scenario for the council is that they will have to raze the old scheme to the ground and find alternative, safe, clean and healthy accommodation for the families living there.

One young mother, Donna Moir, pictured right, said: “The dampness within these WDC houses is disgusting. I’ve got a little boy with half a heart,  and his specialists have given us multiple letters to this effect. I’ve had to bin so much stuff. It [black mould] was growing up my son’s wall, bed, and so on. I’m still holding my rent. I’m meant to have an air clearing system fitted. My son’s sat at 84% oxygen.”

Ms Moir showed a picture of her sofa, which has damp marks on it. She said: “That is my sofa from the damp. I’ve sat for months waiting for the insurance claim but apparently it’s my fault because I cook and the steam is what is causing it.”

Gemma Ewing said: “Here’s hoping we will actually see something done. It’s  disgusting that we need to go to these lengths to try and get some help. I’m not holding my breath though as time and time again we see zero action!” 

Council Labour administration leader Martin Rooney has inherited this appalling situation from the SNP who in turn inherited it from Labour.
Martin Rooney wrote on social media: “The Housing Convener has also asked that he is kept informed of any cases of dampness and mold involving young children.  This is a local issue that the council and other social landlords needs to take seriously and put in place arrangements to keep families safe.”

Housing convener Gurpreet Singh Johal with Cllr David McBride and Labour Scotland leader Anas Sarwar with Cllr Martin Rooney (right).

Cllr Rooney wrote: “This is the motion from Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal moved at the Council meeting in December 21st. 

Motion by Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal – Prioritising Repairs Related to Dampness and Mould.

West Dunbartonshire Council notes the tragic death of two year old Awaab Ishak who passed away in December 2020 in Rochdale, having suffered prolonged exposure to mould as concluded by the coroner on Tuesday, 15 November 2022.
This avoidable death should be a wake-up call for all social housing providers including West Dunbartonshire Council, and local, regional and national Housing Associations.
Council therefore asks the Chief Officer of Supply, Distribution and Property and Chief Officer, Housing and Communities to:
1. Review our approach to dampness in Council properties and how best to prioritise associated repairs.
2. Introduce a process to ensure all dampness/mold repairs are checked and signed off by Maintenance Coordinator before the case is closed. This quality control check should ensure the action taken has fully resolved the complaint.
3. Produce a briefing note setting out the outcome of the review to be sent to all elected members for information.
Council further notes that we will take all appropriate actions to address any concerns tenants may have.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with the loved ones of Awaab Ishak following this heart-breaking case.
Cllr Rooney added: “It’s really concerning that dampness and mould could be the cause of these children being hospitalised. We need to do something about this to protect to families and to improve the quality of our housing stock.”
However, Donna Moir replied: “Is there a point. I’ve had to battle with my son’s school for years for support cbeause he was put into a school with stairs when he was a wheelchair user.
“I’ve sat in that big building they spent so much money on to battle for my disabled child to be recognised. I went from one person to another because nobody would meet with me again.” But Martin Rooney said there was every point in pursuing the matter. He added: “I would say that there is definitely a point in raising your concerns. The avoidable and tragic death of two year old Awaab Ishak has pushed this issue to the forefront.
“The UK government is looking at introducing legislation, the Scottish Government will likely be pushed into doing the same and all housing providers will be reviewing their services to ensure that they are doing their utmost to protect families and children from harm.
“The Council as a social landlord will have to review its policies and processes and develop an action plan to improve the quality of housing and reduce the risks for families and children.”
But Donna Moir said: “To be honest WDC is disgusting. The fights I’ve had is unreal. I’ve had to battle half of them and still doing it. They fail families with disabled children miserably. On top of it I get to pay for my hell hole.
“It’s dangerous for my wee boy to be in these conditions. I’ve been sat for years waiting for a disabled house. We have been at the top of a list for a long time and half the wheelchair houses went to council staff. with no disabilities.  This has been an issue for a long time.”
Cllr Rooney told her: “The Social Landlord is responsible for the quality of its housing stock but the Scottish Government and UK Government should be providing additional funding to help address this. The Labour Administration has raised the issue of dampness a number of times with officers and the Housing Convener Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal brought forward a motion to council as we want to make sure that dampness and mold in council properties is given a high priority.”
Top of page: New social housing of the type needed at Overburn being built in Dumbarton.

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