'Shameful': More than 100 council homes in Grenfell Tower borough lying empty

Exclusive: Kensington and Chelsea council must 'get a grip' on housing stock, says law centre

Harriet Agerholm
Monday 23 July 2018 18:12 BST
Fourteen council-owned homes have been vacant for more than two years, with some properties lying empty for more than five
Fourteen council-owned homes have been vacant for more than two years, with some properties lying empty for more than five

More than 100 council homes in the London borough home to Grenfell Tower are lying empty in what has been branded a “shameful” waste of resources.

Half of the 133 unoccupied houses in Kensington and Chelsea have been vacant for more than six months, according to figures released by the local authority, which presides over an area with one of the highest levels of homelessness in the country.

Fourteen council-owned homes – which have at least 20 bedrooms between them – have been vacant for more than two years, with some properties lying empty for more than five.

The majority of the 133 vacant council houses – or 64 per cent – are not ready to let because they need repair work, prompting calls on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea authority to “get a grip” on managing its housing stock.

Meet the children who go to school in the shadow of Grenfell Tower

One in every seven families living in Kensington and Chelsea – or 1,441 people out of 10,705 – are technically homeless in the borough, according to research by Shelter published in February.

The new figures, obtained under freedom of information laws, relate to houses or flats available to the general public and do not include houses earmarked for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Last month, The Independent reported more than 200 of the houses the council purchased specifically for the residents of the north Kensington high-rise were still vacant one year after the deadly blaze.

Alex Diner, policy officer at North Kensington Law Centre, said: “These figures will come as no surprise to residents in North Kensington: far too much of the borough’s housing stock is simply not up to standard.

“It is extremely worrying that the council has allowed so much vital social housing to lay empty for so long whilst homelessness in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is so high, whilst many local residents have been placed in out-of-borough temporary accommodation, and whilst so many others live in inadequate, often overcrowded housing.”

He also said some of the homes could be used to reduce the waiting times of Grenfell survivors. Some 98 of 204 households from Grenfell Tower and Walk have not yet moved into a permanent houses, more than a year after the blaze that killed 72 people, according to a statement released by housing secretary on Thursday.

“Some survivors still remain without a home of their own, and the council has accepted that a significant number of other households affected by the disaster are not likely to have their housing needs met potentially for years,” Mr Diner continued.

“These vacant properties could be vital to rehousing Grenfell survivors and those whose lives have been changed forever by the disaster. The council must therefore urgently get a grip on its vacant housing stock and bring it up to standard to address the chronic housing need in the borough.”

Shadow housing minister John Healey said: “It is shameful that council homes sit empty while fewer than half of the families who survived the Grenfell Tower fire have been rehoused, more than a year on from the fire.

“Government ministers could and should have taken over this failing council but have chosen not to.

“What was a national disaster is becoming a national disgrace and the Government must now step in to ensure all survivors have permanent homes so they can start to rebuild their lives.”

The Independent has contacted the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for comment.

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