This week, in a story for Friday’s Derry Journal, I visited the home of Antoinette Smith, a mother of two living in the Waterside.
We’d been made aware of Antoinette by Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey who said she had contacted him because of problems of damp in her home. On the way, I wondered how significant the problem would be. I didn’t doubt that there was one because damp can be a horrible and at times invisible issue. But when I entered the house at Barnewall Place off Spencer Road I have never experienced anything like it - and I’m thankful for that.
It was like walking into a fridge. The temperatures inside the house were so cold that on a frosty day, it seemed warmer outside.
As I interviewed Antoinette, I could see my breath in front of me as I spoke.
On the parts of the walls that weren’t completely damaged, there were photographs of Antoinette’s children Dylan and Sophia. She broke down as she spoke about how she’d have to send them to stay with relatives because of the situation in the house.
The situation in the house is horrific. Each room is being swallowed up by the damp. There is water running down the walls of the children’s bedrooms. Despite Antoinette’s best efforts to make the property a home by adding personal touches like duvet sets, cushions, and boyband wallpaper, nothing has been to any avail because of the massive underlying problem.
Antoinette has also, on a very small income derived from benefits, put oil in the tank in an effort to heat the place, but again, the damp came back.
She made numerous attempts to contact her housing association, Apex, who this week sent someone to look at the problem. Their investigations, they say, are ongoing.
It seemed to me an unusual response to a pretty obvious situation. Anyone who walked into the house would see instantly that there is a major problem there and one which requires urgent action.
It isn’t enough to say that there “will” be discussions about it or that it “will be looked at it.”
In my mind no one should have to live in that house until the problem is rectified.
If a school had problems like that, it would be shut down. It wouldn’t be considered healthy for children to be in that environment all day.
But in Derry, in 2015, is it perfectly acceptable for a young family to have to live in this kind of accommodation?
The problem isn’t unique to Antoinette, there is a housing crisis in the city.
There are people who have been waiting for years for a house. Does that make it okay? Absolutely not.
It makes it an even bigger shame on those responsible.