Empty homes and England’s housing crisis – solutions that work, action that helps

Chris Bailey, Action on Empty Homes campaign manager writes:

Nationally we now have over 216,000 long-term empty homes in England at a time of national housing crisis and the numbers of empties are rising at the fastest rate in a decade.

In the last year, long-term empty homes numbers rose in two-thirds of English local authorities. At the same time, over 1 million households are on social housing waiting lists alongside a national housing shortfall of at least 1 million homes And we spend £1 billion a year housing over 82,000 families, including over 120,000 children, in often unsuitable and overcrowded temporary accommodation.

The problem of empty homes demonstrates its worst impacts, most often, in Northern housing markets. But this is not because housing demand is low. In fact, it is very high for social and affordable housing. This is where bringing empty homes into use as refurbished social and affordable housing will help. Action on Empty Homes has published a new advocacy document calling on Government to back councils and community-based housing providers taking action to bring empty homes back into use. On Tuesday 26th February we presented this to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing in the North in Parliament.

The document focuses on 3 things:

first, the scale of the problem;

second, its impacts in the worst-affected areas: residualised communities where those with housing choices have left and those remaining are trapped in poor quality housing (whether owner-occupied or renting in the private sector);

and third and finally, critically, on solutions that work.

Action on Empty Homes works with projects around the country bringing empty homes into use for those in housing need. We know what works and we know what is needed. You can read more about the stories of lives turned around and communities fighting residualisation in our new document ‘How empty homes can help solve the housing crisis’ here:

We desperately need to build social housing in England and to make best use of existing housing stock. We also need to invest in a wasted stock of 216,000 largely privately-owned long-term empty homes. Estimates suggest we need to build 90,000 new social homes a year for the next 12 years. Last year we built 6,400 social homes and sold 20,000 into the private sector, largely through ‘right to buy’. This would be fine if only we were building (far) more than we were selling – but we are not.

Government is not investing sufficiently, for all its positive words about social housing. While also missing wider build targets across all tenures. Bringing wasted empty homes into use can help. Particularly where these are refurbished by locally-led projects, working with local councils, housing associations, charities and social enterprises to make these available at social rents to those in housing need.

Our document explains how this can work and how our experience, and that of the publicly funded programmes which closed in 2015, prove the cost-effectiveness of such approaches.At the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing in the North in Westminster MPs and Lords agreed with us, as they also heard about declining housing standards across the North and the impact of this on health – these are the next generation of empty homes – you can read more in this Smith Institute and Northern Housing Consortium report here:

This should be seen as a low-hanging fruit for a Government striving for constructive action in a national housing crisis. Crucially it is also an opportunity to save communities across England often wrongly termed ‘left-behind’ – though we prefer the more accurate term ‘under-invested’ – from worsening residualisation. It is time we stopped abandoning these viable and often vibrant communities to decline. To see that over 80% of MPs across the House agree read our ComRes research on the Housing Crisis and Empty Homes here: