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.
Grenfell Tower’s action group rightly regarded their social landlord and their local council as being in “sordid collusion” with each other to disregard the needs of tens of thousands of residents, in the knowledge that the only power the latter had was their collective anger – whereas their landlord could rely on the borough for political and legal clout. This power imbalance was amplified by the fact that residents could no longer seek legal aid since extensive cuts were made to the service.