Journalist who spent 10 years in temporary accommodation in Ilford hopes to raise awareness of impact of housing crisis on young people

Immie Rhodes. Picture: Miles Warde

Immie Rhodes. Picture: Miles Warde - Credit: Archant

A journalist who spent 10 years living in temporary accommodation with her mum and three sisters in Ilford has produced a BBC radio programme raising questions about how permitted development rights let office blocks be turned into sub-standard flats for homeless people.

Immie Rhodes, 22, and her family were made homeless in 1999 after the landlady of the house they were privately renting put the property up for sale.

Her mum and dad had split up just before they were made homeless and the family were put into temporary accommodation at a bed and breakfast in Ilford.

"Our back door, even if it was closed, you could pull it open, but obviously my mum wasn't going to complain about that because we would have been at risk of being kicked out," she said during the 30-minute BBC Radio 4 programme called My Name Is Immie.

"I still feel insecure. I still worry about being made homeless which might sound a bit odd but how do I get through to middle class people what it's like to live in a vulnerable position?

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"When I was in primary school, I remember being asked to draw our house. I drew our temporary accommodation, which back then was just an ordinary house. And I think about children living in these office blocks - what would they draw?"

Some 56,000 households are living in temporary accommodation today, up two thirds since 2010, Immie said.

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"Most people living in temporary accommodation know it's not temporary," she said. "I lived in temporary accommodation for 10 years - that wasn't temporary.

"We moved out of there in 2009. Since then, the housing crisis has only been exacerbated."

During the programme, Immie visited Newbury House, an office block on the side of the A12 which was turned into temporary accommodation a few years ago.

Redbridge Council officers waved through proposals to convert the former office block into 60 studio flats in August 2014.

"There used to be lengthy planning regulations to turn places like this into flats," she said.

"They [the flats] are tiny. Some of them are just a third of the government's minimum space standards."

Immie and her producer, Miles Warde, were told to get off the property when they were recording outside.

"It makes me think, what have they got to hide? We were only outside that building for one minute before someone came out and told us to move," Immie said.

During the programme, Immie spoke to architect Julia Park of Leviit Bernstein about how permitted development rights mean office blocks can lawfully be turned into sub-standard housing for homeless families.

Under new planning rules introduced in 2011, the owners of Newbury House were able to covert the building through permitted development rights, which meant the development didn't go through the usual planning process or scrutiny.

The minimum standard for room sizes set out by the government is 37 square metres, but some of the rooms in Newbury House are just 13 square metres - the size of a standard bedroom.

"Had it gone through the planning process, it would have undoubtedly meant the conversion would not have gone ahead," Julia said.

Immie sent more than 80 freedom of information requests to London councils to find out how many office blocks had been converted into temporary accommodation under permitted development rights.

Many of the responses revealed that hundreds were being placed in this sort of accommodation across the capital.

"I feel incredibly lucky that we were made homeless when we were, which sounds like a really bizarre statement to make, but I just think that since austerity has come in and since welfare reforms have come in, I realise that our situation could have been so much worse," she said.

"I really could not imagine being made homeless now. It would just be horrendous.

"When a family is made homeless, they have run out of choices, lost all of their autonomy and their lives are completely in the hands of the local council.

"They have run out of options and have nowhere to go. I believe we should be able to do better than this."

Looking to the future, Immie told the Recorder: "I do hope I can carry on giving attention to the housing crisis and young people living in temporary accommodation through journalism."

Listen to Immie's show here

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