As the search for bodies continues at West London’s Grenfell Tower, where 79 people are presumed dead after the city’s deadliest fire since World War II, the United Kingdom is having a national reckoning about inequality, austerity, and the role of housing in the welfare state.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to the contrast between Grenfell—located in one of the country’s poorest wards—and the wealthy surrounding borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the property. Corbyn and his colleague David Lammy, the MP from Tottenham, suggested the state could requisition the borough’s vacant homes owned by overseas investors for homeless fire survivors.
Thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” program, the proportion of Brits living in council housing like Grenfell is half what it was in 1980. But soaring rents and home prices have brought public concern about housing in the U.K. to its highest point in decades, especially for young people. Corbyn had promised 500,000 new council houses as part of a larger Labour homebuilding program; young people came out for his party en masse and propelled him to big electoral gains two weeks ago. Kensington and Chelsea elected a Labour candidate for the first time in years.
The same day as Grenfell burned, America’s largest public housing system, the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, got a new overseer: Lynne Patton. Patton, a party promoter with a fake law degree who planned Eric Trump’s wedding, was appointed to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, the department’s largest regional bureau. (The agency has since retreated after outraged denunciations from elected officials, saying the position is…