Words by Anisa Tasmin
In September 2017, The Independent published updated figures of the Grenfell Tower survivors’ relocation situation. These figures unveiled the horrifying revelation that “[m]ore than 80 per cent of the Grenfell Tower survivors have not been rehoused three months on” from the tragedy. So far, only three families have secured permeant accommodation which took nearly four months to process after the fire, and Kensington and Chelsea Council report that only 29 families are in temporary shelter.
In addition to the Grenfell residents being housed in what we now know was a fire hazard, 165 households have not been rehoused, and those that are to be relocated, are only to be put into temporary housing. The government and local council are at catastrophic fault for the poorly designed building, and the way they have dealt with the aftermath leaves much to be desired. Temporary accommodation does not provide any sense of stability for survivors, or a chance to be able to comfortably grieve and move on with their lives.
There is an unforgivable number of Grenfell Tower survivors who are in need of new homes, since the government had cheated them out of safe homes in the first place. So why is it taking so long for victims to find housing?
There are grounds to suggest that this is because the social housing situation in London is in general disarray. There are many empty houses around London that haven’t been used in months, yet the demand for more council houses is increasing year on year.
The Guardian investigated the Edwardian Estate which was initially established by William Sutton to house the “the poor of London and other towns” over a 100 years ago. It is owned by the Clarion Group, England’s largest housing Association, which is responsible for “more than 150 social housing flats stand[ing] empty” in Chelsea.
Clarion stated that these houses were no longer fit for purpose and plan to rebuild the current estate into 343 flats, split into 237 flats for social housing and 106 for private housing. This completely ignores Sutton’s intention for the estate to be the answer to London’s poverty.
Rightfully so, the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea rejected Clarion’s proposal regarding the rebuild on November 2016, because it did not offer enough social housing, yet the government’s planning inspectorate had received an appeal from Clarion’s group to refute the rejection, on 13th June 2017.
The Clarion group is under fire for not responding to the housing crisis that has surfaced from the Grenfell Tower fire, as the tragedy had occurred in the same borough that these empty houses lie. The estate was argued to not be of a safe living environment, but this is because Clarion ripped the sinks and toilets out rendering the flats as inhabitable.
The Guardian also reported that housing associations have offered temporary accommodation for those affected by Grenfell: “Notting Hill Housing says 24 of its 46 empty properties in the borough are being held back for former Grenfell residents, while Women’s Pioneer Housing Ltd, says some of its 20 vacant properties were offered as temporary accommodation, but because they were studios or one-bed flats, “they were not useful” to the council.
Catalyst Housing says it had offered to rehouse survivors in any of the 51 empty properties it could offer. Family Mosaic, which has around 30 vacant properties, says it has offered empty homes to the council but it was up to the local authority to decide whether they should be offered specifically to survivors. Octavia Hill, meanwhile, says all eight of its empty properties have been put forward to the council to offer to survivors.
There are many more empty houses littered around London that are in urgent need of redevelopment, but the application process for redevelopment is long and complex. Furthermore, it is not in the interests of housing associations to prioritise or save many housing spaces for social housing, as the government has made cuts in the grants and subsidies provided to the associations to alleviate loss of profit due to cutting rent costs for lower income families.
This goes some way to explaining the national problem of a lack of social housing in general, which is why Grenfell survivors’ needs are not being met half a year later after the tragedy.