Why spend £10bn on Help to Buy new build when 205,000 homes are sitting empty? 

Empty Homes are rising again in England Government figures show that across England over 205,000 homes have been empty for more than six months, within a wider vacant dwelling category of 605,000 homes.

Yet at a time of widely acknowledged national housing crisis, driven by a shortage of supply, failure to meet new-build targets and a crisis of affordability, wasted housing assets, lying long-term empty, are on the rise again.

And as housing attains ever-greater prominence as a political issue and we await a much delayed, and long-promised, Social Housing Green Paper, no targeted Government programme currently exists to combat this. The last Empty Homes Clusters Funding having ended back in 2015.

Empty Homes research shows that neighbourhoods with high levels of long-term empty homes tend to have lower house prices, higher levels of deprivation and lower than average household incomes than the rest of England. They also have higher levels of private rented sector housing and higher proportions of this do not meet the decent homes standard. 

These neighbourhoods can become trapped in a vicious cycle of poor housing standards and decline in perceived desirability. These are what are often referred to as England’s ‘left behind communities’ though we prefer to call them ‘under-invested’ because it is lack of investment which holds them back and prevents communities starting to turn things around.

They are certainly not as Government often refers to them ‘low demand’, they may feature low demand for expensive executive new-build, but they have high demand for social and affordable housing. And they are full of empty homes. Empty homes which could easily be put to this use with relatively small levels of investment.

Far smaller than the many billions that Government attributes to supporting expensive private sector new build through the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme

In the midst of a national housing crisis, these are still areas facing housing need, in local authorities where waiting lists often out-strip housing supply. We believe that its time government re-engaged with policy initiatives to target funding to such areas and end the waste of empty homes. This is why we launched the Coalition for Community Investment in areas with high levels of Empty Homes.

This call for targeted government investment to back community-based schemes to bring empty homes back into use for those in housing need is supported by private sector bodies including the Residential Landlords Association, Federation of Master Builders and Propertymark, with social housing organisations the National Housing Federation, Northern Housing Consortium and National Community Land Trust Network and campaigning bodies Crisis, Shelter and Empty Homes – find out more or offer support here.

Chris Bailey

Campaign Manager, Empty Homes