The appalling destruction of Grenfell Tower and the lives of so many who lived there has exposed what society, in its heart, already knows: our housing cannot continue to be subject to the market’s desires, needs or fluctuations. If some housing is regarded as being more valuable, more desirable, corners will always be cut in the places where there is less financial return. The same goes for people: the most disadvantaged always suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful.
In an inner-London borough as rich as Kensington and Chelsea, social housing is at once integral – in that it forms a massive proportion of its housing stock, and houses a large number of its working residents and families – and yet invisible. This means tenants could warn, repeatedly and with escalating fear, that the building they lived in was a death trap; it meant they felt harassed and intimidated by the landlord and subcontractors during the recent renovation; and it meant, ultimately, that they would be the victims of possibly criminal levels of neglect. …
What happened at Grenfell tower is political—and the residents knew it, by Maya Goodfellow
Before dawn had broken on the Grenfell Tower block yesterday, the chorus of voices had already begun: don’t politicise what’s happened. But housing is deeply political and Grenfell encapsulates how.
The death toll from yesterday’s tragedy is still rising, people are still searching for the missing relatives and friends and residents who survived lost everything they owned—all because of a fire that could likely have been prevented.
The deadly Grenfell fire broke out in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in the country. But it wasn’t one of the area’s many million pound luxury properties that was eaten up by flames; nor was it wealthy residents who were forced to throw themselves from burning windows. This was a block of social housing and many of the people living there were on low pay. And they were wise to what could happen in their home.
Time and again they pleaded with the council and with Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the company that manages social housing in the borough, to deal with their severe safety concerns. Reporting problems over issues from wiring to boilers, they were ignored persistently.
A Very Political Tragedy, by Dawn Foster
In the richest borough of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people in social housing, many on low incomes, were killed and injured in a fire that could have been prevented or contained. Rather than diverting blame from those responsible, or treating it as an act of nature, our responsibility is to ask why it occurred.
Time and again, residents reported serious concerns about the safety of the building to the management organization, the local council, and the member of parliament (recently unseated in the general election). They were met with silence, and several told me on the scene they were convinced it was because they were poor, living in a rich borough that was determined to socially cleanse the area as part of a gentrifying project.
Today’s fire in Grenfell Tower is not outside of politics — it is a symbol of the United Kingdom’s deep inequality. The block of 120 apartments housed between 400 and 600 people, some in very crowded conditions. Tenants reported problems with elevators, emergency lighting, wiring, and boilers. Even the most minor improvement required constant badgering. People were given the message that they were lucky to have any home at all, let alone in a borough that harbored such wealth.
… What is a shocking display from the media to many is unfortunately not a surprise to local community affected by the fire. Many of those lugging bin bags full of important supplies look around at the lack of officials and all come to the same conclusion: “You know why they aren’t here yet? We’re migrants, immigrants, refugees.” Although there has been some coordination from emergency services, the acute absence of local authority delegation and coordination on the ground is difficult for the community to digest.
For residents, it becomes difficult to understand the situation as anything other than classism, even racism, as they stand organising amongst themselves, unaided, in the poorest and most diverse part of one of the richest boroughs in London. Kensington and Chelsea is one of the smallest London boroughs harbouring some of the most expensive houses in the world. Yet, it also has pockets of poverty which are somehow overlooked due to the glamorous reputation perpetuated by shows like Made in Chelsea and Forbes lists detailing the prices of some of its homes. Today though, it is clear that in this tiny borough the wealthy and the working class live side by side in starkly differing conditions. The borough’s façade melts away as quickly as Grenfell Tower did in the early hours of this morning. …
Grenfell shows just how Britain fails migrants, by Nesrine Malik
The police tape that lined streets around Grenfell Tower told a tale of two cities. Multimillion-pound properties with perfectly manicured front gardens stood under the shadow of the still smoking and charred block. Throughout the night before, in church halls, civic centres and mosques all around, residents had gathered to sift through the donations and give comfort to dazed survivors and their friends and relatives.
It was impossible to look at them and not see the obvious: they were, overwhelmingly, Arab, Muslim or African. They were European migrants, black British, refugees from the developing world – some of them second generation – and asylum seekers, sharing the tower with the poor, white working class of London. It was impossible to listen to the languages spoken on the phone to loved ones and not hear that these people were those often filed as “other”. It was impossible to read the names of the dead and the missing and not see that they, or their parents, were displaced from elsewhere. The first victim named was a Syrian refugee, Mohammed al-Haj Ali. The list is now extending into a roll call of the marginalised, the maligned and the disenfranchised. …
When I worked for KCTMO I had nightmares about burning tower blocks, by Seraphima Kennedy
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, a harsh light now shines on the organisation that managed the block, and others in the area, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).
People have said that this was “a disaster waiting to happen”. I shared their concerns. I saw them from the inside.
I remember the vote that led to the creation of KCTMO in 1996, because my mother was a tenant at the time and we received letters about it. I was born and brought up in the south of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, on benefits, in an overcrowded council flat. …
In the hours following the blaze on social media, as people began to feel anger as the news unfolded, a common retort emerged: “Don’t politicise the tragedy.” I understand why it would make some people uncomfortable: as families still search for their loved ones, it can seem “too soon” or in bad taste. But there is something very dangerous about pretending residents dying in social housing should not be seen as a matter for the state. What happened at Grenfell Tower is the definition of political.
Grenfell Tower sits in one of the country’s richest boroughs in a city undergoing a scandal in housing inequality: low-income families housed in dire conditions as the area is “regenerated” for investors. That the cladding thought to have helped cause the death of Grenfell Tower residents was chosen in order to make the tower more attractive for the rich who had to look at it from their luxury apartments is almost too horrific in its symbolism.