Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

'It's very, very bad for my kids'

By Raymond Buchanan
BBC Scotland political correspondent

Migrnats in Govanhill flat
Migrants group together to afford rents, leading to overcrowding

The issue of "slum" housing in the centre of Glasgow will be discussed by the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs will question the housing minister after people in Govanhill petitioned Holyrood for an inquiry into the condition of properties in the area.

Govanhill sits between the Gorbals and Queens Park on the south side of Glasgow. It is a place of traditional tenements and has been home to various migrants for generations.

The latest come from Eastern Europe's Roma community. It is estimated that about 2,000 to 3,000 have moved to this part of Glasgow since the European Union expanded in 2004.

Anne Lear from the Govanhill Housing Association has petitioned the Scottish government for an inquiry into private landlords in the area and whether Govanhill should be given special housing status.

"I don't believe that there are any other areas in Scotland that have the same problem," she said. "In addition to that we have a very, very high increase in population from approximately 9 or 10,000 to 14,000 over the last few years.

"That has put a lot of pressure on the existing property."

I am afraid and I always lock my door
Mohammed Ejas

Govanhill's popularity is also a source of one of its social problems.

Significant numbers of apartment blocks are below tolerable standard. This is a legal definition which assesses if the property is structurally stable, substantially free from damp, and has cooking and washing facilities.

The block surrounding Westmoreland street doesn't meet these conditions. Repairs are under way but people are still staying here.

The back court is strewn with littler. Mattresses, toys and broken televisions are piled up outside the door.

So who would live in such a place?

Mohammed Ejas, 27, shares a two-bedroom flat with his wife, three children and two adult relatives visiting from Slovakia.

He told me: "It's very, very bad for my children. I am afraid and I always lock my door. You see outside, a lot of people and a lot of rubbish in my building as well. So its very, very bad for my kids."

Child's bike among rubbish
Litter is strewn in the back courts of the flats, alongside children's toys

The security door is broken and there is no light in the lower close. That means he often doesn't know who is in the tenement.

He is particularly concerned because five families share the block. He would like the council to come and fix their problems.

A report by Oxfam into the Govanhill migrants found:

"On arrival, Roma without exception find themselves either without employment, or with a temporary 'position', and sharing small flats in conditions of extreme overcrowding and squalor.

"Having paid weekly 'fees' to 'gangmasters', Roma find they are unable to change their situation. Indeed, to break away from this exploitation puts them at extreme risk, not only of unemployment, but also homelessness and destitution in the absence of benefit entitlement."

EU migrants like the Roma are not entitled to housing benefits. They are also unlikely to satisfy the credit checks expected by most landlords.

Limited rights

This means they group together in order to afford rents and accept properties in conditions that others wouldn't. Oxfam concluded that in Govanhill:

"There appears to be high availability of poor quality, private rented accommodation provided by landlords prepared to turn a blind eye to overcrowding providing the price is right.

"Issuing no formal tenancy agreements means tenants have limited notional rights and therefore cannot easily protect themselves against unregulated landlords."

Slum housing
Significant numbers of apartment blocks are below standard

This is the experience of Mike Dailly, from the Govan law centre.

He said: "People are coming from Eastern Europe and they are coming to work. They arrive in Glasgow with the promise of work having paid £450. They then discover there is no job for them and they have been ripped off.

"So what we've got is gangmaster agencies working abroad, working hand in hand with landlords in Govanhill and ripping people off."

He would like to see the council force landlords to sell their properties to help deal with poor housing conditions. He would also like to see a new "not for profit" employment agency set up to help those migrants from Eastern Europe.

But why are properties in such a poor state?

One of the reasons progress on improving properties in the area has stalled is a change to the grants available to owners of flats.

Reduced budget

Before 2006, they could access financial help in repairing the tenement blocks. But changes to the law have made that more difficult and the city council's funds for this task are limited.

This is something the local authority would like to see changed. In its submission to the committee, the city council said:

"Costs to deal with below tolerable standard houses are of the order of £80,000 per unit."

The council insists it doesn't receive special funding for this purpose and said: "The council cannot therefore support the pace and scale of activity which local conditions call for. This is a problem that can only be addressed by an increase in funding."

And that is where the Scottish government come in.

Housing Minister Alex Neil will be asked to make more money available to Govanhill. But his department is facing a reduced budget from last year.

In that environment he may struggle to make more funding available and insist the council deal with the problems on its doorstep.

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