November 3, 2019 3 min to read

Remembering the Lessons of Grenfell Two Years Later

Category : Solidarity

Around the corner, you can still see walls plastered with pictures and images of missing loved ones, messages seeking justice, and demands for change. Two years later flowers remain sprawled across the base of what was once the residential Grenfell Tower. 

A little over two years ago, a fire which started in a malfunctioning fridge-freezer of a single unit, quickly engulfed 24 storeys of the high-rise. What facilitated the speed of the fire was the Reynobond Polyethylene (PE) panels, a combustible cladding that was not compliant with building regulations; it was knowingly installed by the multi-billion dollar corporation Arconic Inc. The combustible cladding was chosen by the Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council Tenant Management Organization, a government-run community housing association, to save £293,368. 

The Grenfell Tower fire took the lives of 72 children, women and men; injured another 70 and left 233 without a home. The tragedy led the UK government to eventually announce a ban on the use of combustible external claddings for future buildings. However, they still have not recalled the flammable cladding which facilitated the fire. This cladding still exists in about 16,400 homes in privately-owned buildings and 8,400 in the social housing sector. 

Furthermore, not only has the public inquiry reports been delayed for the night of the fire, but the criminal investigations bringing those responsible to justice continue to be put on hold through the wheels of bureaucracy. 

Tamil Freedom Coalition recently met with community members who continue to organize in holding companies like Arconic Inc. (the cladding manufacturer), Celotex (the insulation maker) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization accountable for their crimes. 

But what happened in Grenfell isn’t about bad city council decisions. What happened in Grenfell isn’t just about building policies or fire safety. What happened in Grenfell isn’t solely about London. It is about the ongoing conditions the working class are forced to live and struggle in. It is an explicit show of how multi-million-dollar corporations continue to rent out roach and rat-infested run-down units. It is a lesson for Toronto’s many working-class neighbourhoods. Sadly, what happened in Grenfell will not be an anomaly. 

Toronto’s working-class neighbourhoods – Jane and Finch, Malvern, Tuxedo Court, Wellesley and Parliament, Rexdale – bear a striking resemblance 

As too many of us already know, Toronto, like London, has poverty and affordable housing crisis. Public housing that was supposed to be publicly owned, is partly privatized. People living in Toronto Community Housing and low-income housing are forced to deal with inhumane living conditions, ongoing increases in rent, and harassment by security and law enforcement. Year after year, rent continues to increase and corporations justify Above Guidelines Increases (AGIs) based off the cheap aesthetic renovations being done on the building.

And as we see this housing crisis get worse, Toronto Community Housing continues to leave its units in a significant state of disrepair. And rather than fixing these issues in their units, they are resorting to closing down more of their housing units, rendering them useless and leaving the occupants with no choice but to find alternative housing, all while the waiting list for social housing continues to grow.

It is not just a social housing issue, nearly a quarter of Torontonians live below the poverty line, a city which ranks as one of the wealthiest cities in the world. According to NowToronto article “Year in Review 2018,”  the city has the highest child poverty rate and nearly half of Torontonians are renters who spend 30 per cent of their income on shelter. “After rent and taxes, families surviving on minimum wage spend 35 per cent of what’s left on transit. Monthly Metro passes are now $146. At $20,000 a year per child, 75 per cent of Toronto families can’t afford licensed daycare.”

As we continue to see Doug Ford’s cuts in the city – to healthcare, to education and to wages – we know the housing crisis will only become worse. And as we descend into a corporate scramble for land in this city, we know what little protections that working-class people have had will also be revoked. What will be left is a city built as the playground for the rich. 

From community housing to market rent buildings, the reality remains that way too many slum-lord corporations are making a lot of money, while working-class people continue to live in despicable and oftentimes deadly conditions. It’s important that we fight back against these cuts with a united front, in order to bring power back into the hands of the people, in order to not see calls for justice and flowers sprawled across one of our buildings in Toronto.  

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