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Housing

One in three homes in London’s financial district are sitting empty

The English capital needs to focus on meeting local housing needs rather than investors’ priorities to fill homes and boost Covid-19 recovery say campaigners

Campaigners have warned failure to bring empty homes back into use and build housing that is affordable for all could hamper the Covid-19 recovery as they uncovered London’s vacant homes hotspots.

Action on Empty Homes (AEH) mapped the number of residential homes kept empty for long periods in the English capital and found the City of London came out on top with one in three homes empty in London’s financial district. Kensington and Chelsea – the borough where the Grenfell Tower disaster happened in 2017 – followed with one in eight homes left unoccupied.

Failing to build genuinely affordable homes is contributing to rising homelessness and not addressing the long-running housing crisis, according to AEH director Will McMahon as he called for more efforts to bring homes back into use and crack down AirBNBs.

empty homes London
Campaigners have mapped the ratio of homes left empty in London in a new report. Image: Action on Empty Homes

“Year after year, London builds more of the wrong housing, houses fewer of those in acute need and increases homelessness,” said McMahon. “With at least 100,000 homes with no permanent residents it’s time for action. That means getting to grips with the 30,000 long-term empty homes in the capital, controls on Airbnb, and support for local communities that want the low-cost homes Londoners need, not more of the ones they can’t afford or never even get a chance to rent.”

Central London is hardest hit by the issue with one in 12 homes in Camden left vacant as well as one in 16 in Tower Hamlets according to AEH’s analyse of government council tax data.

In North London, one in 50 homes were left empty in Enfield compared to one in 33 in Barnet while one in every 38 homes in Merton, south-west London, are vacant.

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The campaigners concluded that the statistics showed a failure to meet local needs by building lucrative homes that prioritise investors rather than working Londoners.

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Discussions with council empty homes officers also uncovered fears that more homes could be left empty in the future due to the pandemic’s impact on the housing market and working lives with workers moving out of city centres.

AEH’s report called for tighter regulation of AirBNBs and short-term lets to boost the number of homes available for permanent residence. In Southwark, where one in 24 homes are left empty, more than 3,600 empty homes were reported in 2020 – London’s biggest increase, up from 500 the previous year. However, AEH warned many of the homes were previously considered furnished lets but were left empty during the pandemic and were reclassified as second homes in the government’s council tax database.

A tax on vacant homes, citing an initiative used in Vancouver, was also suggested as a solution and said retrofitting rather than demolishing council homes is a vital step towards tackling the climate crisis.

Bringing empty homes back into use can also give councils an option to avoid housing people in temporary accommodation – around 125,000 homes stood vacant long-term across London while 60,000 families are living in temporary accommodation.

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“This jars when communities can see hundreds of new homes being built on their doorstep,” said Manny Hothi, chief executive of charity Trust for London. “New homes need to be just that: homes for people to live in. By bringing vacant and under-used property back into use, and making it more costly to leave new homes empty, we can help house all Londoners and tackle the housing crisis.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced a £3bn affordable homes programme last month, promising to deliver almost 30,000 homes over the next five years. Almost 60 per cent of all homes built will be for social rent – the most affordable category of housing.

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“All Londoners deserve a safe, secure home with enough space to live comfortably, and private outside space to enjoy fresh air,” said Khan, announcing the investment. “I want to deliver a new generation of genuinely affordable housing in London that sets the standard nationally when it comes to excellent design, safety and sustainability.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homelessevery three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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