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The Council That Owns Grenfell Tower Made Millions In Affordable Housing Deals But Didn't Build Many Houses

The council has built 336 affordable homes since 2011-12 – despite an annual target of 200.

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The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) received almost £50 million from housing developers last year to make up for them building little or no affordable housing in the borough – but did not reinvest this in housing, council documents show.

The council, which owns Grenfell Tower, where at least 80 people died in an unprecedented fire on 14 June, made £47.3 million in 2016 through section 106 payments – where developers pay local authorities an agreed sum if they are unable to fulfil their affordable housing obligations in new-build properties.

Despite the sum, however, as the BBC reported, citing council documents, the council has built just 336 affordable homes since 2011-12. In 2012-13 four were completed. The council's target is to build 200 affordable homes a year between 2011 and 2021.

The government has said 220 households were affected by the fire, with 169 of them having been offered temporary accommodation. Communities secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on Monday that 30 had accepted the housing offer and nine had moved in.

Anne Baxendale, director of policy and campaigns at housing charity Shelter, said in a statement: "The continuing struggle to rehouse people in Kensington and Chelsea following the dreadful Grenfell tragedy has exposed the dire shortage of social homes. But in spite of the desperate need, it remains astonishingly easy for developers and councils to wriggle out of building enough affordable homes.

“Instead of treating affordable housing commitments as flimsy ‘nice to haves’, the government should step in to make sure they are respected as cast-iron, non-negotiable pledges. And if councils accept huge sums from developers in lieu of the homes promised, they must act quickly to either build the homes themselves, or pay someone else to do it."

The council has been criticised for not being able to provide more homes immediately and for placing survivors at first in a local sports centre and then B&Bs and hotels.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, said during the same debate as Javid: "Will the secretary of state ask Kensington and Chelsea to take some of the £274 million it has on its balance sheet and go and buy a couple of hundred homes and make sure these people have decent housing?”

The section 106 rules have been liberally used in London over the last decade to produce a series of multibillion-pound housing developments, including many tall towers, with virtually no on-site affordable housing.

Developers routinely argue that to meet affordable housing targets – typically at least 30% of the total number of new homes – would make their projects financially unviable. This conclusion is usually provided by a privately owned third-party consultancy.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for RBKC said that it was the smallest London borough and has 6,478 households per square kilometre, compared to an average of 155 per square kilometre in England and Wales.

"The Royal Borough, like other London local authorities, has found it difficult to directly deliver affordable homes, being a small, densely populated borough with high land values and limited sites to build on," it said.

"The Council has sought to secure maximum affordable housing through the planning process and enable other registered social housing providers to build through grant funding."

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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