Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images
A fire that was started by a malfunctioning appliance in London four years ago left 72 people dead and more than 200 families without homes. The high-rise building, which was located in one of London's most wealthy neighborhoods, was part of a low-income public housing complex that provided affordable housing for working-class Londoners. Grenfell, the name of one of the tower blocks, is now a symbol for a tragedy that was caused by government austerity and property sector greed, as well as a disregard for human life. Residents who complained about the unsafe building were ignored or threatened with lawsuits. The government body responsible for the management of the complex was found not to have used flammable, cheaper insulation materials, which contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. The Conservative government of the country had pushed for deregulation and neoliberalization. They also enacted severe cuts to social services. Grenfell was the outcome. Grenfell was the result.
These deadly events could have been prevented with stronger regulation that prioritizes human life over profit and property.
This analogy isn't perfect. The condo owners are wealthy property owners, while Grenfell residents were among the most vulnerable in London and depended on the state for their safety. The time since Grenfell's horrors have provided us with insight into the complex failures. However, we don't know what caused the Miami building to collapse. The tragedies have one thing in common. These tragic events, regardless of their causes, could have been prevented or mitigated with stronger regulation that prioritizes human life over profit and property. Grenfell and Champlain Towers South show what happens when market forces determine our lives: housing is seen first and foremost as a property and an asset and not as a place for living. This view allows for the kind of regulations that could have prevented these disasters, such as regular inspections and the use of high-quality building materials.
This is because the authorities responsible for imposing these regulatory regimes and managing the consequences of substandard housing are not held accountable. It is frustratingly impossible to see such a change. Grenfell, as I like to believe, changed everything. This catastrophe of austerity combined with corporate governance helped to transform the British government's housing policy to favor people and not profit. It didn't. Boris Johnson is now prime minister, and his Tory government has oversaw a deadly pandemic with the exact same discriminatory disregard that his predecessors and colleagues in Parliament had oversaw Grenfell.
Sajid Javid was secretary of state at the time for housing, communities and local government. He has been appointed secretary of state to health and social care. This includes oversight of Britain's Covid-19 response. Javid repeatedly failed to fulfill his promises to rehouse survivors and refused to provide funding for vital infrastructure such as tower blocks sprinkler systems. Grenfell taught us that even the most horrific mass deaths do not guarantee political change. The powerful are happy to endure the tragedies they create, which is why, in the end, they don't suffer.
Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
Despite differences between Grenfell and Champlain, the fact that tighter regulations could have prevented the tragedies was as clear in early Miami news as when cheap, highly flammable insulation made headlines here in London. An engineer who investigated the Miami condo discovered evidence of severe structural damage below the pool deck. There was also extensive cracking and crumbling in the columns, beams and walls of the garage. Three years later, it was too late to begin major repairs on the building. Residents complained about cracks and water leaking in their apartments. The condo board responsible for building repairs has been blamed. Grenfell was not the Miami building under government jurisdiction. However, rules regarding safety inspections and audits are largely the responsibility of politicians and other public officials. According to Florida law, buildings and properties must be structurally inspected once every 40 years. This is what the condo that was destroyed had been going through before it collapsed. This is too long for a condo to remain uninspected for conditions that could affect hundreds of people. Other condo boards will likely be motivated by the horror of this event to take swift action for their buildings. However, residents in low- and public housing may not have the means to protect their blocks that were built on dangerous terrain. If we allow the neoliberal approach to money guiding our public policy efforts, then we will choose the best real estate first and foremost, as Desmog Blog noted in a post about the Miami realty industry two years ago. Those who have the financial means to lobby policymakers for protection of their valuable property with seawalls and raised sidewalks are fine. Communities that can afford new pumps and other improvements to their infrastructure will also be okay. It is clear that the poor will be most affected if politicians don't act to make housing safer for everyone.