for a new home: Grenfell resident
Kerry Ohara, who lived on the sixth floor of the 24-storey block in North Kensington, expressed her horror at what she says is a competition against her former neighbours, and told RT: “We have to bid for our properties… I don’t really understand bidding, to be honest, that was not what was supposed to happen.”
Ohara is one among the hundreds of Grenfell residents who are yet to be permanently rehoused after fire ravaged the building they called home on June 14, reducing their homes to mere cinders.
“It makes me feel angry that I have to bid to get a permanent place, it makes me feel angry inside, because I didn’t ask to be in that flat that night, you know… and I’ve lost my home and I lost my friends, and now I need to bid for a property,” she said.
Prime Minister Theresa May has promised that all residents would be rehoused within a month, but it is now almost three months since the blaze, and the majority of the 192 Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk households are yet to relocate into permanent homes.
The Kensington and Chelsea Council said that most households are engaging with teams responsible for offering permanent addresses, and that while 127 expressed interest in one or more properties, 10 households have accepted an offer. Two households have already moved in.
Ohara then hit out at authorities for leaving residents in a state of limbo, and not offering answers about what is going to happen to them in the near future.
Claiming “more support” is needed from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Ohara said: “It would be better if we knew where we were, or what’s happening, because right now I don’t know what’s happening or where I am going to go.
“I have an idea, but it’s not definite, and it is the uncertainty of not knowing that plays on your mind”, Ohara remarked.
The council, however, responded to the allegation saying every family has a dedicated keyworker and housing officer. A newsletter is also sent out to temporary accommodations three times a week providing support for the residents.
Her comments come amid reports that more than 1,500 properties in the borough have been left empty by foreign oligarchs and wealthy businessmen.
Some social housing tower blocks in the Sutton Estate are also standing empty because they have been earmarked for demolition to give space to higher-end properties in one of London’s wealthiest areas.
The council responded saying the towers are already being refurbished, but did not specify how many flats will be reserved to social tenants.
“It’s really bad, why are all these properties empty? They could do them up and give them to Grenfell residents,” Ohara said.
“Why are they standing empty when they could be housing people that really need them?”
Some residents have reportedly rejected housing offers because they are being asked to either move outside the area or to a high-rise building, identical to Grenfell Tower.
Anthony Barrett, who works closely with the Justice4Grenfell campaign group, resented how residents are being treated in the aftermath of the fire, and said:
“To me, when Theresa May said that everyone would be rehoused within three weeks, why she said that I don’t know because now, three months on, people have still not been put in the house they are meant to be in.”
He played down the offer for residents to be rehoused in tower blocks, and said: “For someone who has just come out of a high-rise building that’s just been obliterated by a fire, to even just look at an [tower block] entrance brings back nightmares”.
He then claimed there are properties in the area where people could be rehoused, but authorities are just “not willing” to provide social tenants the space, as “they don’t want them here”.
Anthony went on to accuse the council of using the Grenfell tragedy to carry out what he called “social cleansing” and shove tenants from lower-class backgrounds out of the area.
“But how would they displace the people; where did they put them; how did they get them out? Did it a take a tragedy like this in order to get the ball rolling?”
He said the council must make sure that Grenfell residents are “looked after”, and that it is “only right” that any property rebuilt goes to them.
“Because of the mistakes being made from our government, from the TMO, the police and fire brigade on that night, it’s only right that they are put back where they belong.”
The council dismissed claims it is asking residents to move out of the area, saying “we are giving choices for all survivors”.
It responded to allegations of it attempting to carry out a “social cleansing” by saying that it is working with housing associations to get suitable properties for Grenfell survivors, and that at least 100 new homes have already been bought in the local area, while more are being searched for.
“Finding people a permanent new home is our absolute priority. We know that for people to start the process of rebuilding their lives they need the security of a home for life.
“We have already been working with 23 families that have lost people in the fire to help find a new home. We are also working with households who have lost everything in the fire,” Chancellor Kim Taylor-Smith, deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said in a statement.
It explained its rehousing process saying:
“This isn’t about bidding – it is about a sensible and fair process that means those who have suffered most are rehoused first.
“We then promise to rehouse everyone else made homeless by the fire as soon as possible using the website.
“At the heart of this system is our determination that everyone should pick the type of home they want and rebuild their lives after appalling trauma.
“These are people we will support in any way we can. No household is shown a home that they cannot have.”
Referring to the public inquiry which will be held to investigate the causes and response to the Grenfell fire, Ohara said: “I hope that whoever is responsible goes to prison, because I don’t think we can move on with our lives in the community until justice is brought to whoever is responsible.”