Empty Property

by Mark Johnston

There have been many regeneration schemes over the last decade; many have involved emptying homes in preparation for refurbishment or demolition. However due to falling house prices, restrictions on borrowing money and cuts in government funding, in the last 3 years, many of these schemes have either been stalled or even just abandoned. This has led to many properties now standing empty.

These range from entirely empty council estates and whole streets of empty houses to individual redundant school caretakers and park keepers houses.

There are also other reasons that houses are empty such as, some belong to elderly people who have moved in to residential care or people have inherited them and do not know whether to sell, keep or let them. Although most typically, they are rented dwellings that have simply fallen in to disrepair and are owned by people who lack the skills or money to refurbish them.

There is no doubt that empty properties are blight on local communities, they can attract social disorder and have a very negative impact on the rest of the neighbourhood.

An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in to this found that almost half a million homes are lying empty in the UK and they estimate that more than 450,000 properties have been empty for at least 6 months.

There are approximately 1.8 million families in the UK waiting for a council house and it is clear that this empty ‘stock’ could potentially put a roof over the heads of at least a quarter of the families on waiting lists up and down the country.

Across the UK as a whole it is hard to put an accurate figure on the amount of empty properties there is, so the best estimate of the total amount is around 930,000, of which 350,000 are long term.

The lack of reliable information on empty properties has definitely hampered the efforts of campaigners who are trying to draw attention to the problem.

The empty homes campaign’s chief executive, David Ireland, has said “many of these empties are in need of work an in current market conditions won’t make a sufficient return for developers to buy them. However, many of them could make fantastic homes for people who are prepared to do some work on them themselves”.

It is clear that refurbishing empty homes can not alone deal with the entire housing crisis but it could make an important contribution.

There is now increasing pressure on local authorities to develop effective empty homes strategies to make the best use of their existing housing stock, especially in the face of an ever growing population.

Some councils are already trying to help ease the housing crisis with using empty properties. In Birmingham, the council launched an ‘empty property strategy’ in 2007 and their vacancy rates are now down by 5,000 compared with levels in 2003.

Birmingham’s cabinet member for housing, Councillor John Lines, said “it is crucial in today’s economic climate to bring much needed homes back into use for occupation by families who really need them and this is a priority for us”.

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