Tara is an English teacher who works in a comprehensive school in Bath. Her housing nightmare started last year when she discovered a week before Christmas that her landlord intended to sell the house she was renting.
“[The estate agency] told me by accident,” she remembers. “One of them just said, ‘Can we have people round your house?’ I had no idea what she was talking about.”
Tara is a single mother with two children. She had been renting a three-bedroom house but, when she checked the market, she quickly realised that such properties were well beyond her means. With her older son at university but spending a lot of time at home, a two-bedroom house was not ideal, but would do.
However, when she spoke to local estate agents, she was told that on her salary and as a single breadwinner, no landlord would rent to her.
“I had this sudden and horrible realisation that being a teacher meant that, actually, I was pushed out of the market.”
This was despite the fact that Tara “had three jobs on the go”: she was also working as a private tutor and an exam marker.
For Tara, the whole experience was “terrifying”, a “series of horrors one after the other”. Worst of all was the fact that her daughter was in Year 11, and due to start her GCSEs in May – a month after the family was going to lose the house.
Tara went to her local authority for help but, having been on the council house waiting list since 2006, she was told it was unlikely that a new home would be found for her family in time.
The stress of the situation made her unwell, but she never took a day off work. “Literally the only thing that gave me any sense of worth that I could cling on to was the fact that I was a permanent teacher in a very well thought of school,” she says.
Three weeks before being made homeless, she was “not sleeping, thinking what’s going to happen, are the bailiffs going to have to come and throw us out?” A housing association then said it had a house for her. Although it was on a “notorious” estate and in an “appalling” condition, it was Tara’s only option.
Tara had initially kept what was happening to her a secret, but she was urged by her doctor to talk to friends. One of them told her about the Education Support Partnership, which provided a grant to pay for white goods and to cover the cost of moving house, which she says made “an enormous difference in my life”.
Another charity helped to get the house into a slightly more habitable state. “The floors were completely encrusted with 30 years of excrement,” she recalls. “The day before we moved in, there were men putting floors in…repainting walls that were [coated] in fur.” While she initially felt “uncomfortable” in the house, Tara says she has found herself “loving the safety” it has provided for her family.
For the first time, she can actually afford the rent – and will be able to apply for a lifetime tenancy.
She cannot see herself ever getting back into the private renting sector, let alone buying a house.
The ordeal has left scars. “The emotional toll this has taken on me and my daughter is enormous…it digs so deep.”
It has also shaken her faith in the contract between public workers and society. “We have no value,” she says. “The belief that if you work really hard, do the right thing and play a decent role in your society, there is hope that things get better. I realised that does not exist anymore for people like me.”
Her message to the government is stark: “They have to release the councils to build thousands upon thousands of council houses. Start giving normal people houses.”