The eviction of Mostafa Aliverdipour
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At 7.30AM on Friday Mostafa Aliverdipour was asleep in the living room chair that he is rarely able to move from, when his French windows started to shatter with a loud bang. Bailiffs smashed through the glass with a crowbar, breaking into his home to repossess it as shouting protesters attempted to defend the disabled man's home on the Sweets Way Estate in North London.
Filming from inside, my legs were like jelly and my hands were shaking. When I heard the first bangs, I could barely remove the lens cap as I ran downstairs shouting for Mostafa's son Ash to wake up. As I watched shards shatter towards the floor, I was reminded again of the violent reality of the housing crisis.
Mostafa's story is a painful one, but represents what the housing crisis actually means: displacement, lack of transparency, power play, profiteering and straight up inhumanity. Ash told me the night before the eviction, "I used to think this is the safest place in the whole world to live in, but London is for rich people. Everyone else, they don't care about. Right now my father's basic human rights are being taken away – and no one is listening."
That night in his living room, Mostafa was trying to be positive but I could tell he was anxious and completely exhausted. While Ash told me the story of what had happened to the family over the last few years, Mostafa would add details from across the room.
Outside, rows and rows of empty but perfectly good houses council house were boarded up, waiting to be demolished by Barnet Council and Annington Property Ltd and replaced with 288 swanky new houses and flats, only 59 of which will be "affordable". There was something quite apocalyptic about it. The story of Sweets Way is one of a council who has neglected its duty of care on so many levels. Mostafa's story is just one of them.
The family have lived in Barnet for 11 years. Mostafa was in full-time work as a carer for the elderly when he had an accident and lost the ability to walk and therefore, his job. He was then unable to keep up with his payments in the private rental sector. With nowhere to go, and his health quickly deteriorating, he had no choice but to declare his family homeless to the council.
In November 2014, the Aliverdipour family were moved to Sweets Way on a temporary basis. It was a ghost town. Their neighbours laughed in disbelief that the family were being moved there – most existing residents had already been served a possession order and were packing up the contents of their house, recalled Mrs Aliverdipour. After receiving letters in the post from Barnet Council for an immediate possession order, some felt so scared that Mrs Aliverdipour saw two families leave urgently at 2AM without time to collect all their belongings. Some were moved out of perfectly good homes into bedsits. Some were moved out of the borough, as far as two hours away from where they'd previously lived.
In trying to find them somewhere to live, Barnet Homes seem to have selectively read the numerous GP letters, medical reports, occupational therapy visit notes and letters from his MP that Mostafa has provided since 2012. They explain his inability to walk and almost total dependency on a wheelchair. Even this temporary accommodation is unsuitable for Mostafa's needs. He has had to squeezing between doorframes in his wheelchair and was unable to get upstairs to where the rest of his family slept. Every night Mostafa slept upright in the armchair in the living room. When he was in need of a bath or shower his sons carried their father upstairs.
His occupational therapist reports him lacking in confidence when moving without wheelchair. The therapist wrote: "He described that when mobilising, his left leg can 'collapse', presenting a possible further falls risk, and this appears to be affecting his confidence to mobilise without use of his wheelchair. Mostafa reported previous falls within the current and previous property, one of which he claimed had resulted in him becoming unconscious." Barnet Homes maintain that Mostafa is only a part-time wheelchair user, and only needs the wheelchair when he is outside of the house.
When I asked Barnet Homes for a statement on the case, they said, "We have been working closely with Mr Mostafa Aliverdipour over the past months to find him suitable alternative accommodation. Based on the medical evidence we have been provided, we were able to locate a newly refurbished three-bedroom house on the borough border that we believe fully meets Mr Aliverdipour and his household's needs. He has accepted the offer of the property and we will be helping him to move in due course." In fact, they have offered Mostafa a three-floored property in Enfield with no wheelchair access. He will be unable to move around in his own home, require constant assistance from his older sons and not be able to visit his five-year-old daughter's bedroom on the next floor.
Barnet Homes added, "We always make every effort to minimise disruption to people's lives and we take into account individual's needs when offering alternative accommodation. Therefore it is very important that we are provided with evidence of any special requirements if their circumstances change so this can be considered as part of an individual's case." His seven-year-old daughter has moved three times in a year and yesterday, Mostafa was admitted to hospital suffering from stress-related panic attacks after sleeping in his friend's house all weekend. The toll this ordeal has taken on his health has been recognised by his health advisor who has advised him to go to a mental health doctor immediately.
First hand accounts I've heard from all over London – as well as my own brush with near-eviction from a half-way house in 2013, when the council didn't think it was unreasonable for my little sister to move three times in her GCSE year – suggest a tendency for councils to offer families houses as quickly as possible, while paying barely any real attention to their medical or other needs might be. Some people feel that they must take whatever they are offered. With the council having technically discharged their duty, those who refuse an unsuitable property are considered to have "made themselves intentionally homeless" and councils can wash their hands of them.
Mostafa's son Ash summed up his exasperation: "My father was offered seven properties over the course of three years. Five of them were withdrawn because they were not suitable for his needs and Barnet council had agreed. Then he accepted the sixth offer, which was specially built for a wheelchair user. This offer was than withdrawn because of rent arrears, however my father is entitled to full housing benefits so there is no reason for the rent arrears happen at the first place. The council gave us no reason for this."
After a brief stay at Sweets Way, the family were inevitably given a possession order, and the council notified them that they he needed to pay £60,000 for their legal costs.
On the day of Mostafa's eviction there were around 30 bailiffs and seven police vans. There had also been a private security company hired to watch over Sweets Way for the last few months. Last week in court whilst deliberating whether High Court Bailiffs was an excessive amount of force to use on a disabled man, Ash was told that for every month Mostafa stayed in Sweets Way due to a lack of suitable housing offered, Barnet Homes had to pay the developer £25,000 per month. He remained in Sweets Way for almost six months.
Mostafa and his family are the human collateral of a housing market where motivation to pursue profit overrides duty to provide for a disabled man and his family.
From the private developers reaping the rewards, to the councils ridiculously handing them money, there is a systemic refusal to act on the best interests of families and vulnerable people. The displacement of 150 families from perfectly good homes to sell to private developers shows the continual disregard for the effect this has on human beings. Mostafa's story is one of the more shocking, but it's not the only one.