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Some London Fire Survivors Will Be Housed in a Luxury Complex

The local council, which oversees the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, owns Grenfell Tower. It received harsh criticism for what critics say was a slow and ineffective response to the emergency. Angry residents marched on the borough’s Town Hall on Friday, and on Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government seized control of the disaster response, sidelining the borough’s officials.

Mrs. May is trying to push through her legislative agenda even though her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament in elections this month, and her government has been trying to show that the crisis is under control.

“The residents of Grenfell Tower have been through some of the most harrowing and traumatic experiences imaginable, and it is our duty to support them,” the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, an ally of Mrs. May, said on Wednesday in announcing the purchase of the 68 units. “Our priority is to get everyone who has lost their home permanently rehoused locally as soon as possible, so that they can begin to rebuild their lives.”

The new apartments will be bought and managed by the Corporation of the City of London, the capital’s financial district, which, along with 32 boroughs, make up Greater London. It was not immediately clear why the City of London was paying for the new apartments, which are, like Grenfell Tower, within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, or what price will be paid.

The displaced residents will be allocated a mix of one- to three-bedroom units with a simpler interior, but with the same construction, according to the property developers, the Berkeley Group.

All of the apartments “will be fully furnished and completed to a high specification,” and liaison staff will be provided “so that residents are fully supported in settling into their new homes,” Mr. Javid’s ministry, the Department for Communities and Local Government, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Grenfell residents would be given access to all of the amenities in the building.


A new housing development in Kensington where 68 apartments will be assigned to rehouse families who lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower fire. Credit Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Two leaders of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, have called for the government to seize vacant properties — many of them luxury homes owned by overseas investors, an emblem of the capital’s gaping inequalities — to house fire survivors, at least on a temporary basis.

Mrs. May has rejected those proposals, but the announcement on Wednesday showed the extent to which the government was looking at private-sector housing as part of its response to the emergency.

Grenfell Tower had a mixture of owners, renters and subtenants, and a tenant activist group, the Radical Housing Network, said on Wednesday that it was awaiting details of who would be eligible to live in the new homes.

“It’s unclear whether these flats will be available to private renters, homeowners or subtenants of Grenfell Tower,” the group said in a statement. “Public authorities have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all of those displaced by the Grenfell catastrophe, whatever their status.”

Some of the survivors also worried about the social dynamics of their relocation, wondering whether they would be kept out of sight of the wealthier tenants in the buildings.

“It’s all very well in theory, but we need to read the small print,” said Alan Crawley, whose mother survived the fire.

“Putting a group of traumatized people who have lost loved ones and all their possessions in the corner of a shiny new building isn’t going to solve the problem in itself. The government should answer the residents’ questions first before making these vague statements.”

Source: NYT > World

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