So Here’s An Interesting Question About Grenfell Tower – How Much Was Sublet?


That the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy is obvious. That lessons need to be learned is equally so. At which point, OK, which lessons would we like to learn? One that would be useful is to work out how much of social housing in London – for that’s what the evidence allows us to estimate – is illegally sublet. Or, as we might also put it, how much social housing in London is not actually needed as social housing?

For sublets are, by their nature, at something close to market rents, the difference between those and the social rents being pocketed by those doing the renting out.

No, we don’t know and that might be just because we’ve not been paying the detailed attention required. But it’s also something we tend to think will have been glossed over in investigations into the events. Something that perhaps should not have been glossed over – if indeed it has. It also strikes us as being a much more sensible use of resources than this:

The site of Grenfell Tower is to be handed back to Kensington and Chelsea council within days despite local anger at the prospect of the borough’s involvement, the Guardian has learned.

The police investigation into the disaster in west London, in which 71 people died, will come to an end imminently and, with the site no longer designated a crime scene, it will be released to the council, which owns the plot.

Well, yes, it’s a fairly normal part of our system that, after criminal investigations have been completed, property is handed back to the owner. You’d really be pretty pissed off if the police insisted on keeping – or handing off to anyone else – a corpse after they’d jugged the murderer, no?

The site had been to those who died in last year’s fire after the council said this spring that it would put the community at the heart of decisions over its future and had no other plans for it.

And that’s rampant stupidity. The thought that a place, in the centre of London, where we could house – safely perhaps this time – several hundred people not be used to house several hundred people? We have a housing shortage or not?

However, it’s the insight into that larger question that interests. We know that some amount of social (and or council) housing in London is illegally sublet. The very fact that it is shows that it’s not needed. Those who are paying the landlord a reduced rent clearly don’t need the property as they’re not living in it. Those paying the near market rents don’t need social housing as they’re paying near market rents. Thus subletting shows that the entire structure of – at least in that instance – the social rent isn’t necessary.

So, how prevalent is it? We know that some of it occurred at Grenfell. We’ve all admitted it, clearly, for we’ve not insisted that only those on the tenants’ listing are those who should be granted aid for having had their home burned down. So, we know there’s some. So, how much?

It’s unlikely that we’ve as much information on this concerning any other building in the country. Thus this is an excellent place to actually conduct such research. We could also, if we were so minded, ponder on how many of those being housed weren’t in fact legally allowed to be in the country.

It is an important question. How much social housing do we need? That many died, that a tragedy took place, doesn’t detract from the fact that this enables us to find out more information concerning that question.

So, has this been studied? As above we’re entirely willing to believe that we’ve just not noted it having happened. We do though think that rather more noise would have been made if it had. Not so much the findings, we’d expect there to have been uproar at even the suggestion that the work be done.

If you know that this has been done then please point us to it. And if it hasn’t, then perhaps someone knows where the base information might be found which we will then work to collate?

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