Kensington and Chelsea Council has said it will rehouse 68 families from Grenfell Tower in luxury Kensington Row apartments, where prices start at £1.7 million. But the housing crisis that led to the fire – the overlapping effects of underdevelopment, neglect, cuts and sell-offs of social housing stock – has left many other people in the borough homeless, or in unaffordable or substandard accommodation. Thousands languish on waiting lists for the ‘very few social housing properties available’. Meanwhile, 1399 privately owned homes in the borough lie empty. Senior Labour Party politicians have suggested that the council should use compulsory purchase orders to ‘requisition’ empty investment properties. The idea was met with outrage from people scandalised by the thought of a government ‘land grab’: ‘The state shouldn't seize private property backed by the implicit threat of violence,’ GQ’s political correspondent, Rupert Myers, tweeted. But councils have been using compulsory purchase orders for years.
Last Tuesday a group of 29 young mothers and mothers-to-be occupied an East Thames Housing Association show flat in protest against their prospective eviction from the Focus E15 Foyer, a hostel that provides temporary social housing and training to young people in Newham. Some of the Focus E15 Mothers have been there for more than three years. Six months ago, the women were served an eviction notice following a council decision to cut £41,000 of funding for the Foyer and its purpose-built single-parent units. The only alternative offered to them was private rental accommodation in Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester, far from their families, friends, jobs, colleges and children’s schools.