Since sharing his personal social housing nightmare on social media, 23-year-old Kwajo Tweneboa’s DMs have been flooded with hundreds of tenants desperate for help. So much so he’s now a high-profile social housing campaigner who visits homes in the worst conditions meeting people living in disrepair and despair. Image: Channel 4
Kwajo Tweneboa has gone from desperate social housing tenant to nationwide housing campaigner to television presenter in just 18 months.
The 24-year-old is the scourge of housing bosses across the nation and if you have followed his social media output, the contents of new Channel 4 documentary Untold: Help! My Home is Disgusting will be equal parts familiar, disgusting and enraging.
The documentary gives a snapshot of Kwajo’s packed inbox. Camera crews follow him to visit social housing tenant Sarah in Haringey, whose house is covered in damp and black mould. It’s a similar story for Tracey, the ceiling of her family home caved in after her complaints about a leak fell on deaf ears for seven years.
It’s not just social housing tenants. Kwajo has his eye on the private rented sector too and is forced to don Sainsbury’s carrier bags on his feet to visit Jayvon’s home in north London where raw sewage has flooded the flat.
It’s just another day in the life of Britain’s housing hero.
“I’ve lost count of how many homes I’ve been to,” says Kwajo. “I’ve been to countless estates. It’s in the thousands because my estate alone had more than 500 homes on it.”
Kwajo’s own experiences with disrepair are still at the heart of everything he does. He and his two sisters cared for his terminally ill father Kwaku Robert Tweneboa in a squalid housing association flat infested with files, cockroaches, and mice on the Eastfields estate in Mitcham, south London, before his dad died in January 2020.
Kwajo says he complained to landlord Clarion about the disrepair for more than a year with no success before he tried a different approach.
On May 21 last year Kwajo tweeted out pictures of his home in a bid to name and shame Clarion. It went viral and Kwajo was able to get his home fixed.
Then he turned his attention to his neighbours’ homes. Now he is the most prominent housing activist in the country and his focus is nationwide.
It’s a big job – 457 households have reached out to Kwajo for help in the last 18 months, he says in the documentary. Around 13 per cent – just over 500,000 – of social rented homes in England are estimated to be non-decent as defined by the government, according to official figures, compared to 21 per cent of private rented homes.
The most recent official statistics in Scotland show 19 per cent of all dwellings are in a state of urgent disrepair. In Wales, almost 80 per cent of social landlords reported they are dealing with disrepair claims, according to a Welsh government survey.
“The condition my father was living in was completely unacceptable for anyone. Not even animals should be living in those sorts of conditions. But unfortunately, he was and that’s been my burning motivation,” says Kwajo, speaking with an anger and conviction that has coloured his campaigning.
“Now seeing that people are actually listening and providers and saying: ‘Hold on a second, actually, maybe we should be doing our jobs correctly.’ I thought, absolutely, if I can hold them to account then I will.
“But there’s a whole goal here, especially with the government, to have things sorted right at the top and to have that filter down because, ultimately, they create the change that will benefit future generations. So I can’t stop now. I have to apply as much pressure as possible.”
Applying pressure has taken as to the stage at Enough is Enough rallies and a speaking slot at Glastonbury Festival.
It’s also taken him to the heart of government – former housing secretary Michael Gove met with Kwajo while developing the upcoming Social Housing Regulation Bill which is designed to improve the state of social homes.
It’s not an invitation that Liz Truss’s government has replicated.
“I haven’t met with the new government as of yet. They haven’t reached out or anything,” says Kwajo.
“I’m hoping after this [documentary] they do because progress was being made. It’s about continuing that progress in the right direction and not diverting off on to a different track or agenda.
“We made it clear what we need and deserve as tenants. It’s what we expect of our politicians and the election will be round before we know it. Housing is going to be a big priority at the election. I’m going to do absolutely everything to make sure that is the case.”
His Channel 4 show continues his mission. Think property shows on the channel and think Phil and Kirsty helping a couple find a three-bed semi-detached to raise a family on Location, Location, Location. Or think Kevin McCloud marvelling at the natural light from a skylight in a mansion built entirely from concrete on Grand Designs.
Wading through faeces in a flat is a far cry from that. But disrepair has its place on the television alongside the eye-catching homes.
“It should have been on there way before I came along, it should have been up there front and centre,” says Kwajo.
“It’s not glamorous, I can admit that. You see the conditions I go into. But it shocks people who don’t even know this exists, it leaves them with their mouth on the floor because it’s a living nightmare for many.
“I hope they finish watching the film angry because I absolutely was when I went to visit the tenants.
“I really do hope it gets that conversation going because that’s what we need to be talking about. These are the real issues of this country.”
Kwajo’s journey is not over. While tenants around the country deal with leaks, infestations and a myriad of other issues, his work is not done.
But he does provide hope. Hope that someone’s listening. Hope that a landlord may be shamed into carrying out repairs. Hope that the government will be forced to reckon with a housing crisis that is getting worse by the day.
For Kwajo, it’s a way to keep his father’s legacy alive.
“It’s funny because if I had known in hindsight this would all happen and I could have told him when he was still here, he’d probably laugh and say, ‘What are you on about?’” says Kwajo.
“But now I’m sure he’d be so proud because his name’s continued and I’m a reflection of him. Although he’s not here, he is still here in that sense because he worked with the elderly and cared for people, and he had that about him. I hope I’ve been able to pass that on to others and share that.
“He was the sort of person who, if I asked him: ‘Would you swap being here with what I’ve done in the last year and a half?’ would probably turn around and say: ‘No, because it’s absolutely worth it.’ That’s just the person he was.”
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