The key function of social housing is to provide safe, affordable accommodation to citizens on low incomes. Rents are kept artificially affordable with the view that offering a helping hand will help these citizens to work their way into the privately owned or rented property system. Such services are run by a combination of council owned and not-for-profit organisations whose aim should be to provide a safety net for those that are in need.
The terrifying scenes that took place last week at Grenfell Tower in London show that even in economically rich countries there is a big problem with the quality of the social housing being provided. Regulations must be strong enough to ensure that all residents of social housing do not have to go to sleep at night in fear of fire or other structural issues with their home. At the time of writing the official figure of confirmed dead or missing presumed dead was 58. Governments across the world should be taking note of this disaster and making sure that the social housing that they are providing does not allow for a similar disaster.
What Can We Learn from This Social Housing disaster?
The owner of the Building is a local borough of Kensington and Chelsea – London’s wealthiest borough the landlord is the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation. A not-for-profit company in charge general maintenance and refurbishment of the building. The borough recently contracted them to refurbish the tower and they have spent 10 million pounds ($12.8 million) on these procedures over the last two years.
The renovation project included installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows, and a communal heating system, but no sprinkler system. The cladding seems to be the offender now that it has been proved to be flammable. Early reports suggest that the fire spread so fast thanks to the new external cladding. At this point we must say that no final report or cause has been released by the fire service, but the majority of media reports have pointed towards the cladding being the main offender.
We do not want to get into the details of exactly what went wrong at Grenfell Tower as this is the job of the public inquiry that has been launched by Prime Minister Theresa May, but there are some lessons that Governments and Local Authorities around the world should be taking from this disaster before any final enquiry is produced.
Retrofitting has become very popular in recent years as all Governments are trying to be more energy efficient and fitting old buildings with new heating and insulation systems has been very popular. This is great in theory as it means that the householders will pay less in energy bills and it helps to contribute to a decrease in use of fossil fuels. But, these positives cannot come by increasing the risk of such a fire or disaster.
It has already been confirmed by the company that supplied the cladding that the cheaper and not fire resistant cladding was purchase for this retrofit. How that is possible when you are retrofitting a tower block is beyond comprehension and we are sure will be one of the focus areas for the public enquiry. In fact, it is difficult do not understand how the non fire resistant cladding is still legally allowed to be sold. Successive Governments must take some blame for this as the regulations should be in place to make sure that such a disaster should never have happened in the first place.
At this stage we can only hope that Governments and Local Authorities across the world are looking at this disaster and urgently addressing any shortfalls that they have in the regulation of their housing industry, whether that be private or social housing. For the residents of Grenfell Tower this comes way too late, but we can only hope that the lessons are learnt from this disaster so that others do not have to experience the same.