It is impossible for Yacob Woldehiwot to hide his emotions as he watches the video he took of the moment he lost his home. Each impact of the bailiffs’ hammer on the door hinges of his home seems to draw audible gasps from him.
The footage, captured on his phone, shows men starting to flood through his doorway as the Ealing resident is overcome and he can’t stand to watch his own forcible removal from his home of 17 years.
His eviction on October 11 comes after a 7-year battle to try and remain in Carisbrooke Court in South Acton, a place that had been emptied out over that time as the council’s regeneration project in the area took hold. He and his family were the last holdouts, refusing to give up the hope that the sturdy building could be renovated – not replaced.
Yacob’s heavy-handed eviction was the culmination of his stand-off with the council, his defiance saw him removed in handcuffs. Local democracy reporting services met Yacob outside his home, a place he says he is forbidden to return to by the council, even to collect his possessions.
He tells LDRS that he is homeless and living with relatives until his situation is resolved. He is determined that the fight for his home is not over. “I came down in handcuffs but my head is up to fight the eviction,” the father of two says after taking a few moments to compose himself, tears still staining his cheeks.
An often chipper character, Yacob has been a rallying figure for many in the South Acton community who have seen the estate regeneration project claim building after building, dispersing many to other parts of the borough and in some cases the country. He took part in a housing protest outside the newly constructed community centre a few months ago alongside others who are unhappy with the upheaval brought to their lives by the development.
Since then, Yacob says he was subjected to a campaign to dislodge him by the council in the months and weeks leading up to his eviction, a time he describes as “life under siege”.
He says that the street lights outside his home were also switched off, rubbish began to collect out the back of the building and men began showing up at his home – all in an effort, he says, to intimidate him. “My power was cut, it happened around 2 in the morning. It was pretty spooky, to be honest.”
However, the council says that it has done all it can to get Yacob and his family out of his house in as fairhanded way as possible saying that they had approached him on 13 occasions to come to an agreement and was each time rebuffed.
Ealing Council adds that they were forced to make a compulsory purchase order after these attempts were refused as his presence in the building had caused a three-year delay to its demolition and redevelopment.
An exhausted Yacob says the last 7 years have been incredibly difficult for him and his family and that the council’s offers at market value for his home “wouldn’t be able to buy anything around here, not just in London but the whole UK.” The council also added that they offered him the chance to move into a new home on the South Acton estate on a shared equity basis, with the chance to buy the remaining equity in the future.
However, because of the rules governing this kind of exchange Ealing Council says it could only offer him a one-bedroom flat despite his home being used functionally as a 2-bed and again he refused. Yacob says there were a number of other considerations he and his wife made when refusing the swap.
“When they were demolishing [another housing block near Carisbrooke Court] there was so much noise there was so much dust, during the covid times it was mental torture so my wife gets headaches straight away”, he said. To add insult to injury for the heartbroken family living on the estate would mean witnessing the destruction of their beloved home.
Yacob describes the eviction as a family tragedy as if he is mourning a loved one. “We had a very lovely home and it feels like what my wife was saying, it’s like when you are told somebody has died but you don’t believe it. We don’t believe our home is gone. On two occasions I drove in this direction and had to change. Many times I put this postcode into maps only to remember ‘Oh I am not going there’. We still don’t believe it.”
He adds that to remain on the estate would be extremely emotionally taxing knowing what they have lost. “When someone dies, someone close to you, [you can’t] hold on to their clothes or something like that, it is too painful.”
It is clear from the way he talks that Yacob has still not fully given up on being reunited with his home saying he is doing everything in his power to challenge his removal and council’s plans. He disputes the fact that the council properly consulted residents in the development process and is currently attempting to prove that there are discrepancies in the council’s claims that one was conducted and is attempting to bring forward a judicial review.
On the side, Ealing Council appears resolute in its decision. In a statement, it said: “Mr Woldehiwot has intentionally and singlehandedly held up the development of new homes for hundreds of other families. He has been offered a package of compensation for his home which reflected the independently assessed market value of the property on 13 separate occasions, but has instead stuck to his unofficial valuation, which is around double the market rate. He was also offered the chance to move into a new home on the estate on a shared equity basis. Instead of accepting either option, he has run a campaign to force the council to pay over the odds.
“Given his persistent refusals to engage, the council had to make his home subject to a compulsory purchase order (CPO). Mr Woldehiwot had exhausted the legal options for challenging the CPO and was therefore removed from the building by High Court bailiffs on 11 October. A council housing officer attended the eviction to offer the council’s full support with temporary accommodation, but Mr Woldehiwot again refused support.”
The demolition of Carisbrooke Court would be another step in a significant regeneration program for the council. It told the BBC that the £600m project was due to be complete in 2027 and the new estate, Acton Gardens, would have about 3,400 new homes, of which 1,250 would be allocated for people on low incomes.