Could empty homes help solve our housing crisis?
We are all aware that we are facing a national housing crisis. Demand has consistently outstripped supply of housing for decades, pushing up prices and putting a home of their own out of reach for many - particularly younger people who struggle to get a foot on the property ladder.
In August the Government announced sweeping changes to the planning process, with the aim of enabling faster construction of much-needed new homes. The policy has been criticised in a number of quarters as critics accuse the Government of threatening to “concrete over the countryside” and build more homes in already built-up areas, particularly in the already overcrowded South East of England.
So is this kind of mass building programme really the answer? A report out this week reveals that there are huge numbers of empty properties around the country where no owner can be identified. Surely such homes could be put to better use?
New research by developer StripeHomes estimates that there is an eye-watering £1.744bn worth of unclaimed, vacant property in England and Wales, with London and the South East topping the league table. The majority of these properties have been left vacant by people who have passed away without making provision for their home – either because they haven’t made a will or because they have no living relatives.
The figures show around 7,991 estates left unclaimed in England and Wales, at an estimated value of £218,300 each. Properties remain on the Government list of unclaimed estates for 30 years before being passed to the Treasury. This is a long time in the life of a property. At the end of the 30-year period, a once-loved home is likely to have fallen into major disrepair and may be past saving. What a waste!
According to Shelter, more than a million families are on social housing lists. This figure is likely to increase as the inevitable post-Covid recession takes hold. Meanwhile, habitable homes that could be brought back into use are standing empty.
Of course, finding a solution is not as simple as it seems. Boarded-up and abandoned properties may need considerable sums of money spent on them to make them habitable. Or they may need to be demolished and rebuilt. Who will foot the bill?
Social housing providers are urging the Government this week to provide funding to allow them to buy up private homes to help alleviate the housing crisis. Why not just say ‘yes’. At the same time, reduce the threshold for laying claim to an empty property, initiate a major refurbishment programme for abandoned housing and get deserving families off the social housing list - while at the same time providing job opportunities in the construction trades. This would involve some agile thinking and the will to make it work: surely that can’t be beyond our abilities?
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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