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Could The Empty Homes In England Fix The Housing Shortage?

By Author: Bradley Weiss
Total Articles: 159

There are hundreds of thousands of houses and flats that sit empty in the UK for various reasons. Some might be reusable or appropriated to meet the housing shortage.

According to the UK website EmptyHomes.com, Government data on vacant dwellings show there are 610,000 empty homes in England. More than 200,000 of those have been vacant for more than six months. This information is derived from local authority Council Tax base data as of October 2014.

So does that suggest there is ample accommodation for the estimated 1 million UK households waiting to find a home to buy or rent?

The housing charity Shelter - which counts 279,000 long-term privately owned empty homes in England - calls it “a real waste of housing when there are so many homeless families looking for somewhere to live.”

To a certain degree it makes sense to use what’s already there. But note how Shelter also advocates for the building of new homes. This is because many of those empty homes are not located where people need and want to live. Indeed, many are second homes largely used for holidays. The organisation has no quarrel with either housing associations constructing modern, energy-efficient homes or private investors such as real asset fund managers who turn raw land into new neighbourhoods for middle- and upper-income residents.

The more homes in total, the less homelessness overall. According to a January 2015 report in the Mirror, there are almost 61,000 homeless households in the UK as of September 2014.

That said, George Clarke - architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter on architecture and empty homes shows - makes several key recommendations on how derelict empty homes can add to the country’s useable inventory of residences:

• Treat demolition as the last option; refurbishing and upgrading is always preferred.

• Proper community consultation, done openly and transparently, is required for regeneration programmes.

• That a developer has full planning approval and secures construction financing for new building before demolishing existing structures on the site.

• Use a “mixed and balanced” urban design scheme to preserve salvageable existing properties in combination with new builds.

• Local authorities might promote and encourage homesteading, cooperatives and “sweat equity” schemes for procurement of empty homes for use.

• Where properties decanted for renewal are then left empty for a half-year or longer, they should be offered for temporary accommodation in a safe and habitable state.

The need to establish sufficient housing exists at all strata. The homeless need homes. Working people want to form households and yet rents and purchasing prices are beyond reach, particularly in London. Even the moderately well off cannot afford to live in Central London because year upon year of double digit price increases have sent the costs of residences above £2 million in many instances.

Government-sponsored lending programmes such as Help to Buy are having an impact, as is private investment in new communities by property fund managers. Homebuilders have consequently responded in 2014 and 2015 by increasing output. But given the rate of population increase in the UK and the demand it creates, the housing inventory needs to expand by a broad variety of methods.

Private investment in real estate is critical to the landscape. But individuals who look to real estate for asset appreciation should do so only after consulting an independent financial advisor. Various methods come with a broad range of risk.

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