We investigated Sheffield's 'housing crisis' and tried to visit city's 'horror' homes – here is what we found

A key problem with a housing crisis is the difficulty of knowing what goes on behind the walls of people’s homes.

What may look to be a warm, welcoming house, could in fact be a den of horrors with a rosy façade.

And many people across Sheffield could be struggling in secret, according to Sheffield Hallam’s MP Olivia Blake.

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Giving a recent speech on the city’s housing crisis, she told how she fears tenants are “afraid to speak out.” She went onto reveal how those who have come forward have reported facing a long list of serious problems.

In her constituency alone, problems with rats, mould and asbestos are all among the horrors people are facing. “We are returning to the 1800s,” she warned.

Keen to find out more about unethical landlords and deteriorating housing conditions, Yorkshire Live reached out to Blake’s team. As per their recommendation, I then headed to Crookes, where I was told lots of issues have been reported, to talk to residents.

© Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror

But I struggled to find anyone who had a horror story to share. Despite spending almost two hours knocking on doors, talking to students, families, and professionals, nobody’s experience matched up with the reports the MP shared. In fact, several residents shared opposite experiences.

For Peter Nicholds, owning a house on one of the suburb’s quiet streets with his partner is a dream. He told me that having grown up in what he termed a less desirable area of Sheffield, moving to Crookes had been a long-term goal. “It was on my bucket list to own a nice property in a nice part of Sheffield,” he explained.

As for the house, it “hadn’t really been looked after” when they first moved in, but that was on account of the elderly owner before them. Twenty-two happy years later, he still loves living there, with renovation work currently underway to improve the house even further.

Elsewhere, I met a young father with children in tow who told me he was happy, both with his house and the area. A tenant rather than a homeowner like my previous interviewee, he was still content.

His family had in fact stayed in the same rented house for the past six years, and in all that time he had found zero complaints.

Even where residents felt more ambivalent, nobody had much bad to say about their property. Connagh Launchbury, a postgraduate student renting with a group of friends, said: “The house is fine. It’s a student house. It’s not amazing, but everything’s fine.”

Wherever I went I found much the same story. People were happy overall, and even if they weren’t living in their dream home, they did not share negative feedback, despite my questions.

All of this is not to say the housing crisis does not exist. I know the truth of it only too well from multiple painstaking searches for rental properties across Sheffield during the last five years I have lived here. As a student, looking for houses in Crookes, I even came across properties that could be worthy of a spot in Blake’s speech.

One memorable landlord was trying to rent a room so narrow you would struggle to lift your arms sideways in it, even if they had removed the bunkbed structure – which had a mattress raised above a desk and small cupboard, since there was no place else to fit furniture in the room.

Then there was the house with a garden strewn with rat poison pellets and a bathroom covered from wall to ceiling in black mould. As we made our way to flee, the letting agent paused us, asking if we wished to sign for the house there and then, advising us it was very popular and would be snatched up quickly otherwise.

While I didn’t come across any houses like those in this search – much to my surprise – perhaps it only goes to further prove Blake’s point. Maybe I did speak to someone too frightened to speak out. Or maybe everyone told the truth.

From house to house, and landlord to landlord, the situation changes. I went on to rent and spend a delightful year just streets away from one of the horror homes I saw.

The difficulty is MPs cannot know the real picture unless people do reach out for help. And according to Blake, help is sorely needed.

She said: “My constituents are not only paying the price with their physical health; every single person I speak to with housing issues is also experiencing poor mental health. Living in conditions unfit for human habitation is devaluing. It makes people feel as if they do not matter.

Do you think Sheffield is in the midst of a housing crisis? Let us know in the comments.

“The stress of having constantly to complain and chase up repairs comes at a cost for people because they are having to take multiple days off work to try to resolve the issues and to protect their families.”

A report by Shelter also indicates that across Sheffield 28 percent of private rentals and four percent of social rented housing have category one hazards such as excess cold or risk of falls.

So while my search did not help to reveal the crisis, one that can be proven by research and lived experience, it perhaps acts as proof of the challenges involved in tackling it.

If you live in a hazardous house, and would like to share your story, please get in touch by emailing amber.oconnor@reachplc.com.

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