A terrifying scene unfolded in London early Wednesday morning when a 24-floor public housing tower went up in flames. Home to around 600 people, West London’s Grenfell Tower was the site of a fire that spread quickly to other floors, causing at least six fatalities so far, with that number expected to rise. Twenty-four residents are also in critical condition, injured while struggling to protect themselves or escape from the blaze.
As the tower continues to smolder, a truly awful story is coming into focus. It’s not just the grim news that people have died and hundreds more are suddenly homeless. It’s also that tenants of Grenfell Tower have been warning of unsafe conditions for years.
In a chillingly prescient blog post last November, members of the residents’ association wrote:
It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord... and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.
That landlord is the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO), a not-for-profit company in charge of refurbishment and maintenance of the building.* The building is owned by the local borough of Kensington and Chelsea—London’s wealthiest borough. In a trend now typical across London, the borough contracted KCTMO to refurbish the tower, in part to increase the number of apartments available for private rent or sale. That work left the tower with just one staircase and exit—an exit that the management company has failed to keep clear. Protests about the safety of the people living in the tower fell on deaf ears.