Bangor social housing residents living in 'unsafe' conditions

Residents at a social housing estate have said they are living in fear over their children's health due to major structural issues with their houses.

The majority of those living in Killaire Wood Lane in Bangor, County Down, are families, and many deal with complex mental and physical needs.

But some have been forced to live with crumbling door frames and water damage.

"If we weren't on benefits, would we be treated this way? I doubt it," resident Leigh Corbett told BBC News NI.

"When you're in social housing, you can't just refuse to pay your full rent until issues like these are sorted, like you would if you had a private landlord.

"Most of us pay for our rent through our Universal Credit so we don't actually see the money, it pays the company straight from our benefits.

"But it shouldn't matter how the money is paid. You should have a basic expectation of a safe house."

BBC News NI has also spoken to another resident, the mother of a severely disabled child whose family say they are terrified that damp and mouldy conditions in the little girl's bedroom will result in her becoming sick before a major operation.

Leigh Corbett
Single mother Leigh Corbett said residents feel let down by Choice Housing who, she said, keep "fobbing" them off

Killiare Wood Lane was completed in 2018 by Choice Housing and there are more than 100 houses in the development.

Ms Corbett, who works as a classroom assistant and has three children, said she has had to replace bedroom floors multiple times due to water seeping through poorly sealed balcony doors.

Another resident phoned police to report that he thought his door had been "kicked in", but it was due to a decaying wooden frame. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed it attended a call-out and no crime was recorded.

'Keep fobbing us off'

"I don't think we're being unreasonable - we shouldn't be expected to live like this," said Ms Corbett.

"We're all house-proud people and we love living here but you can't keep your house nice when there's water running down the walls and you're worried about parts of your house falling down around you, or you or your kids getting sick.

"We've become accustomed to door handles falling off and then you just reattach it when you're going out - it's not normal.

"All we're asking is for Choice to replace the windows and doors as soon as they can, and to be compensated for the money we've spent fixing their mess, but they keep fobbing us off.

"There are a lot of people with mental health problems living here and this worry is making them worse."

Lena Andrews, who lives in Killaire Wood with her daughter, said she complained to Choice in 2019 about draughts.

As a result, some of her windows were sealed with silicone, meaning she couldn't open her balcony doors.

"Covid then hit so nothing was done for ages and I was using draught excluders and towels to keep the water out, but it was still coming in when it rained and the wooden floor in my daughter's bedroom lifted," she said.

"When lockdown lifted in 2021, a new foreman came round and was asking about all the problems that had been reported.

"I let him in and showed him everything, including the silicone. He couldn't believe that the doors had been sealed like that because it was a fire safety risk, so he had the silicone removed.

"We were then told the balconies would be replaced with big windows, but that never happened so we're still in this mess."

Choice admitted silicone was used as a temporary measure but said it was most likely removed as it no longer had the required effectiveness, rather than due to fire safety concerns.

On 1 November this year, Lena woke up to a puddle of rainwater in her living room.

It was coming in through her ceiling.

Lena said: "I phoned Choice straight away and they told me to turn the electrics off at the mains and they'd put me down as an emergency, but it would take four days.

"I put a load of pots and pans down to try to keep the water off the floor and wasn't sitting there half an hour when my smoke and carbon monoxide alarms started going off - the water was setting them off.

"So I called Choice again and they told me I needed to turn them off too. How is that safe? What if there was a fire?

"Their customer service just isn't good enough."

In a statement to BBC News NI, Choice Housing said its emergency priority repair time is 24 hours and that alarms have battery back-up for when an electrical supply has been switched off.

Killaire Wood Lane
There are more than 100 houses in Killaire Wood Lane in Bangor, the majority of which are occupied by families

Choice has apologised to residents and admitted "the hardwood components should not be failing in such a short timeframe".

"We also apologise that it is taking longer than we had hoped to replace defective windows and doors. Whilst we had made some progress with the original contractor to remediate, the latter then went out of business.

"However, we have now completed a survey of all properties and have progressed our own contract for these works. This will allow replacement of defective windows and doors to commence on site in February 2024."

Choice said it will "expedite" repairs already reported and plans to be on the ground in Killaire Wood Lane this week, while surveyors will also check window and door measurements.

It added that affected tenants would not be "out of pocket for any loss incurred as a result of damage caused by these unacceptable defects".