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Mixed welcome for London fire victims at luxury complex

Posted June 22
Updated June 23

Families made homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire are to be rehoused in new, affordable apartments right next door to luxury private homes in one of the most exclusive parts of London -- and some of their prospective new neighbors have mixed feelings about the news.

Kensington Row is off Kensington High Street -- one of the most desirable addresses in London. It's close to the exclusive rooftop bar, Kensington Roof Gardens, which houses a celebrity hangout restaurant and nightclub.

It is also less than two miles from Grenfell Tower, where a blaze last week left at least 79 people dead or missing, feared dead.

Most of the properties in the complex are designed for private sale or rent, and come equipped with luxury facilities including a gym, private cinema and spa, with current price tags ranging from $2 million to $4 million.

The government has now acquired 68 apartments in the same development -- in two blocks specifically designed as affordable housing, which do not contain the same leisure facilities -- and will offer them within weeks to some of those who lost their homes in the June 14 inferno.

Some residents of the adjoining luxury blocks at 375 Kensington High Street voiced concern about the prospect.

A 24-year-old student, who would only give his first name as Saif, told CNN he has been living in a one bedroom flat there for three years.

"Actually for me, it's good and it's bad. It's good (that) the government ... give them houses, because they don't have houses, but it's unfair, you know?" he said.

"I am paying here like -3,000 ($3,800) ... and they give it them for free without paying any service charge."

Saif said he had been thinking of buying an apartment there after a few years, "but I want to see. They say they are going to move at the end of July. So I want to see what will happen. I might move to another place."

'It's not just about the money'

Another resident, who identified himself as A.J., has been living at the development for two months. "Honestly, I didn't care at first, but if I was to live here (longer term), it would affect me. It's not just about the money," he said.

"If they were to screen the people that were living there, for example if families want to come here, it wouldn't really affect me."

He said people paid a premium to rent an apartment in the complex in part because of its exclusivity. "The cheapest one here is -575 ($730) a week. So it's not like living in Queensway, for example, where they're surrounded by benefit houses or affordable homes. People pay a certain amount here just to be secluded."

Builders working overtime

Other residents were more supportive of the plan.

A 21-year-old student from Azerbaijan, who gave his name as Naghi, has lived in the development for a few months.

"It doesn't bother me. Of course, after what happened, I'm more than happy," said Naghi -- who added that he had already donated money to a charity supporting the Grenfell Tower victims.

"If I could help ... if we had space, of course I would be more than happy to help until they get a place from the government," he says. "I'm a Muslim, and I really love helping people out."

Builders are now working to an accelerated timetable to complete the new apartments by the end of July.

"We will work night and day to get these homes ready," said Tony Pidgley, chairman of the Berkeley Group, the developer of the project.

The government has been heavily criticized for its response to the fire and has pledged to house the Grenfell Tower fire survivors speedily.

"Our priority is to get everyone who has lost their home permanently rehoused locally as soon as possible, so that they can begin to rebuild their lives," UK government Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said.

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