Grenfell Tower Fire: A Tragedy of Greed

On June 14, a fire obliterated Grenfell Tower, a 24-story block of public housing in London. Eighty people have been confirmed dead, and police say the full toll will not be known before the end of the year. Journalists have discovered that tenants protesting the building’s poor management and unsafe conditions had been ignored for years. 

Though tenants complained about power surges and the state of fire escapes, a £8.6 million (about $11 million) regeneration effort last year added cladding with a highly inflammable core and a design believed to have accelerated the fire’s rapid spread between floors. Planning documents obtained by the Independent newspaper show that while the cladding was supposed to improve the building’s insulation, it was also intended to “improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area”—the affluent neighborhood of Kensington, whose “living conditions” would be “suitably protected.”

Parliament has repeatedly voted down housing safety bills designed to prevent tragedies like Grenfell; the Guardian reported in 2016 that 39 percent of its Conservative Party members were landlords. “Here we see how state and private interests intertwine at the expense of tenants,” notes the Autonomous Tenants Union of Chicago.