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Where to house the Grenfell homeless? Expropriate the rich’s empty investments | Penny Anderson

Those who have have suffered unimaginable horror could revitalise areas turned into property prairies by the rentier class. They deserve that at least

As the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire is gradually revealed, we already know that people are homeless and traumatised, having lost everything, and sometimes everyone they care about. They are bereft, shattered, devastated and in need of help to soothe their sorrow, and of assistance for their practical needs.

But one particular aspect is easy to make better, isn’t it? Placing survivors of this horror in London’s vacant property, as David Lammy and Jeremy Corbyn have rightly suggested, is pleasingly and exquisitely simple in its justice (in fact, let’s house all homeless people in the capital’s empty flats).

Proudhon applies here. Property really is theft when it is grasped greedily and then hoarded, when every home suitable for first-time buyers is placed out of reach. Developments that should contain homes for people to live in are appropriated by the rentier class. This is a major problem in London, but also happens wherever the buy-to-let development industry is rampant – Manchester especially.

How many empty homes are there in London? Tens of thousands. Not all are gorgeous mansions in the sky; some are quite ordinary flats but pass for luxurious under London’s febrile through-the-looking-glass housing market, where an ordinary Edwardian terrace in Fulham built to house the working class is now drooled over by millionaires.

When investors have outbid even those few locals who might afford to buy them, do they then live there? Sometimes. Rent them out for a massive profit? Occasionally. All too often new property is bought off-plan by overseas investors who treat robust housing like fragile porcelain ornamental houses, keeping them empty and clear of polluting tenants.

Wander through neighbourhoods favoured by investors and the first thing you notice is silence. There are frequently no children, not even any teenagers hanging around. Some homes are bought by overseas clients who never see what they own, and who, given the amount of equity they have already acquired, have made a fortune by sitting still and doing nothing.

So let’s nationalise them. Let’s place them in the hands of councils so desperate for affordable homes that they ship homeless people to Peterborough, away from all they know and everything they hold dear.

Vast gated estates of empty investment shells with poor doors render neighbourhoods eerily bleak. Housing Grenfell Tower survivors together would revitalise arid property prairies where nobody lives but where rich people invest. Squatting is so restricted by new laws as to be impossible, so that option is closed. Kindly expropriation – owners could even be paid rents by government – will open up empty flats, even entire blocks, ideally containing top-of-the-range sprinkler systems and with all cladding the best that money can buy. These properties will be fireproof, shiny and classy, with all internal fittings extravagant. The grander, the better. 

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