Enough is enough.
The devastating tragedy at Grenfell Tower was one which could have been avoided. Our thoughts are with all those affected and we will do what we can to help in the aftermath.
We are aware, through our research and that of our partners that ordinary people have been being cleansed out of social housing in London for a significant number of years, often being moved to appalling accommodation. Now, in Kensington and Chelsea, through negligence people have lost their lives in housing that was originally meant to transform them.
Kensington and Chelsea is a borough with a proud social housing history, about 25% of all housing in the borough is social housing and the area boasts some of the greatest examples of its legacy including Ernő Goldfinger’s iconic Trellick Tower and the World’s End Estate – one of the last great post-war social housing projects.
Yet this legacy has been hit by the tragedy, the borough cannot meet its obligations and the result is that people are trapped in sub standard accommodation. Indeed, what options are there for people when RBKC’s own housing strategy describes the borough as a “very expensive place to live and this means that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for those households on lower incomes with a local connection.”
One of the sad answers to this question of options is shown by research from the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation that states that one in four families in the borough live in overcrowded conditions – so the answer in many cases is nothing at all. We already know that a number of safety concerns were raised about Grenfell in the last few years and how they fell on deaf ears, yet in a borough that has been forced to make efficiency savings for the last seven years we have to ask why were these ears deaf? We’ll probably never know if it was because of department restructures or individual negligence but the fact remains it should never have happened and we must ensure it doesn’t happen again. We need action now.
The underlying problem is that housing stock in London – and increasingly other cities such as Manchester – is being simply viewed as investment potential rather than people’s homes and Kensington and Chelsea is no exception. The borough has been referred to as little more than a ghost town in the past few years due to the sheer number of homes that are just investments. Campaigns such as Focus E-15 and the groups in the Radical Housing Network have tirelessly drawn attention to this pattern in the way our cities are being run for some time. Writers such as Danny Dorling and James Meek have written persuasively about how unequal and biased the entire system is against people who need cheaper housing. But the status quo has remained in place, generation rent is now a permanent social class and we hope that now, those with the power to make change will do so.
It is time for action. It is time to invest in social housing. Not staircase schemes, not 25% of new developments being classed as ‘affordable’, not out of borough placements to inadequate housing on less valuable land. It is time to invest in the maintenance of existing social housing stock in this city and beyond. It is time to re-populate empty estates, and give local authorities the resources they need to ensure that they remain populated by the people that this city should cherish and that they stay safe.
Investment must be made so that local authorities can build and maintain social housing without creating development vehicles and relying on the market for capital. Corruption must be weeded out and unaccountable contractors penalised. There must be a shift and this must be made in the way that we value housing, so that ordinary people have a long term, safe home in the communities where they have roots, jobs and families.
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This news blog was written by MoH co-founders Matt and Jess Turtle