There’s an elephant in the room over Grenfell Tower. And the unlikeliest Labour MP has a solution

Grenfell Tower
Emily Apple

The full extent of the casualties in the Grenfell Tower fire is not yet known. But we do know that 120 homes have been lost. The people who lived there urgently need to have security and stability following the tragic events. Despite assurances from housing minister Alok Sharma that people will be re-homed locally, it still remains the elephant in the room that isn’t being addressed.

But an easy solution to the problem has come from an unlikely source. Former Labour deputy leader and Corbyn critic Harriet Harman tweeted:

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Jeremy Corbyn

Harman was referring to an emergency session in parliament where Corbyn stated:

Kensington is a tale of two cities. The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy, it’s the wealthiest part of the whole country… properties must be found – requisitioned if necessary – to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.

And Harman wasn’t the only London MP to agree. MP David Lammy, who has friends missing in the fire, also said:

Social housing

Alok Sharma promised:

we’re going to be working with the local authority and the Government to guarantee that every single family from Grenfell House will be rehoused in the local area.

But the problem is that there’s very little social housing available in Kensington and Chelsea. This is set out in the table below:

In other words, the number of homes let out in a year in the borough is now at its lowest in nearly ten years. So there is a simple question for the government: where are these new homes going to come from?

Social cleansing

While it’s good to have these assurances from Sharma, it’s hard to believe them. Poor people are being forced out of the capital city in massive numbers. Data from 2015 shows that tens of thousands of people were forced from London as a result of a combination of benefit cuts and council sell-offs.

Current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said at the time:

This data shows that the government’s policies on welfare and housing have caused social cleansing in London on a vast scale. Families have been driven out of large parts of the city… this is not the kind of London I grew up in or want my daughters to live in.

A solution

But Corbyn and his fellow MPs have a good temporary solution for the government. There are 1,399 empty houses in Kensington and Chelsea alone. Across London, there were 19,845 homes sitting idle for over six months in 2016.

And while many people are homeless or in inadequate housing, offshore companies own a big chunk of London’s houses. In 2016, there was a 9% rise in the number of properties in London owned by offshore companies. In Kensington and Chelsea, 7% of all properties are owned in offshore tax havens.

Requisitioning the empty houses is the right solution for the Grenfell Tower victims. But it is also an answer to Britain’s chronic housing crisis more generally. We should not want to live in a society where a wealthy elite is not only displacing communities but not even living in the houses they are buying up.

This conversation is not only the elephant in the room about Grenfell Tower. It is the elephant in the room regarding our housing crisis more generally. No one should be homeless while houses sit empty. And while it’s welcome that politicians are finally having this conversation, it’s an absolute disgrace that it’s taken such an enormous tragedy to make it happen.

Get Involved!

– If you are concerned about anyone from Grenfell Tower, call the Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233 or 0207 158 0197

– Support the Justice for Grenfell protest.

Donate to the Grenfell Tower Appeal

Featured image via Sophia Akram

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