Friday, June 16, 2017

Gimme shelter

The Grenfell fire reminds us that if you are afraid of -ists, you are threatened more by capitalists than by Islamists.

Material used in the cladding that covered the Grenfell Tower was the cheaper, more flammable version of the two available options, an investigation of the supply chain has confirmed.
Although the Grenfell tower was public housing (council housing in England), its maintenance had been privatized. It provides a sickening confirmation of a phenomenon RtO has often written about, the "Fireproof Hotel"scheme.

(I wrote a summary today as a comment on a call not to attribute "wickedness' to the Grenfell perps: 

(Don't define wickedness down. I have often commented on the 'Fireproof Hotel' ploy. If you own a hotel, you can attract more business by advertising that it is fireproof. You can either paint 'fireproof hotel' on a firetrap or you can invest in fireproofing. You will make more money by using just paint, at least until your hotel catches fire. If you're lucky you will outcompete the honest hotelier and drive him out of business. That appears to have been the case at Grenfell. Seems wicked to me, even when no one burns to death.)

On a side note, when I heard on a radio broadcast that a high-rise was on fire "on every floor" I was skeptical. Tall buildings cannot do that; regulations forestall it.  But it turns out that the myth of over-regulated Britain is a myth akin to other rightwing fake news. Again, The Guardian:

In the UK there are no regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools. But the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body, has been pushing for years for the government to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities and companies to use only fire-retardant material. Jim Glocking, technical director of the FPA, said it had “lobbied long and hard” for building regulations on the issue to be tightened, but nothing had happened.
I had planned to write about subsidized housing in Britain and Maui before the Grenfell fire. I delayed and now events sharpen the point.

Before the election in the UK, John Lanchester in The London Review of Books had written about London real estate in terms that sounded a great deal like Maui:

   A person who didn’t know modern Britain well might guess that the body in charge of this hugely ambitious project would be one with formidable powers of oversight and planning, combined with decades of expertise. A person who knew modern Britain better would be more likely to guess the truth, which is that there is no such body. No one is in charge of VNEB. There is no plan. The developments are the result of developers’ proposals, as well as occasional blurting interventions on the part of central government, under the supervision of local councils, in this case Wandsworth and Lambeth. Mayoral action and inaction play a role too. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson were both pro-skyscraper; Johnson came up with a great phrase about not wanting to create ‘Dubai-on-Thames’, and then did everything in his power to do exactly that. In 2007, the mayor acquired the power to override local councils on ‘strategic’ questions of building, though this power doesn’t seem yet to have included restricting tall buildings, as opposed to allowing them. From this mismatch arises the marvel that will be VNEB, a chaotic patchwork of architectural ambition, developers’ greed and mostly well-meaning but always overmatched local councils. The new ‘homes’ are being targeted mainly at overseas investors. When the first properties in Battersea Power Station went on sale Businessweek ran a story about it that you didn’t need to read. All you had to do was look at the byline: Kuala Lumpur. Typical of the flats that have gone on sale so far is a two-bedroom apartment for £1.5 million. No Londoner – no Brit – is going to spend that kind of money to live in a two-bedroom flat in Vauxhall. The target market is glaringly, self-evidently non-local.
This is happening in a city where, by universal consent, one of the biggest problems is the lack of affordable housing. For many Londoners, younger people especially, the cost of housing is their first concern; living in what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calls ‘housing-cost-induced poverty’ is central to their experience of life in the capital. This is one reason London is suffering a net loss of people in their thirties – a terrible warning sign for any city, especially one so pleased with itself. There is something here which reaches beyond the standard four-legs-good, two-legs-bad of party allegiance. Look at it from a Vauxhall local’s point of view: 1. housing is in crisis and desperately needs fixing; 2. the single biggest thing to be happening in the local economy in decades is a housing development; and yet 2 has nothing to do with 1, will not alleviate it in any respect, and may even (if it succeeds in flooding the London market with yet more foreign capital) make 1 worse. There is a total disconnect between what a majority of citizens want – I’m guessing, but London is a city where the majority of people are renters rather than owners – and political outcomes. Who should you have voted for, if you didn’t want things to get to this point? Most of it happened under Labour, at all three levels, local, mayoral and governmental. The Tories made it worse. Who should you vote for in Vauxhall at this general election, if you want to stop what’s obviously going to happen: the creation of a huge number of the very last things the city needs, new luxury flats under absentee foreign ownership?
The answer is that it doesn’t much matter, because on this issue you have no agency. I know that this may look like a trick answer, since planning decisions are taken by local not central government (except when the reverse is true, à la Prescott Towers). But our political system is man-made, not the creation of divine decree, and it is the system which is failing in this respect. In the case of housing, the solution to this problem is obvious and has been known for years. It is to build more housing. The Barker review in 2004 came to the conclusion that the UK has an annual shortage of 245,000 new homes.
I encourage you to read the whole, wordy thing.

Maui's housing deficit is said to be 16,000 although I believe it is considerably higher.

16,000 is 30 Waiehu Heights projects, which I propose as a model for adding housing for households with 2 earners of middling income.

As for where, acquire 1,000 hot, dusty acres from HC&S in the vicinity of Puunene. Houses there would not be so attractive to offshore buyers.

I did not hear his talk, but Peter Savio was on Maui last week. A friend who went to see him tells me he said if you want affordable housing, the gummint must absorb the infrastructure costs; sewer, water, open space etc.   

Even then, any housing would be affordable only to the middling sort. You cannot build new housing that is affordable by people working in retail, the largest category of workers on Maui

 In other places, affordable housing is older housing -- sometimes originally mansions, sometimes originally tract houses or cheap apartments -- that is in decline. This works only where there is a stock of older housing; it doesn't work in expanding communities like ours.

1 comment:

  1. The Grenfell fire reminds us that if you are afraid of -ists, you are threatened more by capitalists than by Islamists.

    How many people have Islamists raised from dire poverty?

    How many people has capitalism raised from dire poverty?

    Although the Grenfell tower was public housing (council housing in England), its maintenance had been privatized. It provides a sickening confirmation of a phenomenon RtO has often written about, the "Fireproof Hotel"scheme.

    The free market is the best solution for many, but not all, things. Building codes are a perfect example of a problem that is far better solved by government than the market.

    However, you seem to be placing a great deal of blame on the market that it doesn't deserve:

    The local borough council owned the building but had devolved its management to a non-profit-making management quasi-company that was, in essence, in the public sector, though it paid its senior staff, in effect local-government civil servants, private-sector-sized salaries. This effectively public-sector management firm was responsible for choosing the refurbishment and for guaranteeing and certifying that the work done was safe, though similar such work had previously caused fires in buildings like Grenfell Tower. It hired a private contractor, the successor to a company that had previously gone bankrupt after a large claim had been made against it for defective work.

    The quasi-public-sector management company, by all accounts, had disregarded the tenants’ repeatedly voiced concerns about the lack of proper fire precautions in the building. My experience of public-sector housing authorities, when I was a doctor with many patients who lived in public housing, was that they were stone deaf to all justified tenant complaints, unless someone like me made firm representations on the tenants’ behalf. These authorities were unutterably heartless and dishonest, as well as incompetent. They had to be protected from their clients by bulletproof glass.