9:29 AM, 14th January 2013, About 8 years ago 1
Central London Landlords are not the villains as thousands are owned and unused by poorest boroughs in an empty homes crises.
“The lights are out in London” seems to be politicians’ pet mantra. It was used by Lib-Dem MP Simon Hughes in his motion to make parts of the capital ‘off-limits’ to wealthy people purchasing second homes and ‘leaving them sitting empty’. It was used as a catalyst for the Stamp Duty rises for high end property in the last budget. And most recently, it was used by Camden Council in their efforts to increase council tax on empty homes.
With 354,389 families on the waiting list for social homes in London, there is clearly a housing crisis. The Government have targeted Central London and its private landlords as the aggravators for the scandal. However, the latest statistics reveal that scores of London’s empty homes are publicly owned, with local councils, especially in London’s poorest Boroughs, not doing enough to support their residents.
The latest data from the Local Authorities reveals that in Hackney, almost 50% of all the empty homes are council owned, compared with 7% in the country as a whole.
According to the National Housing Federation, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has the third largest waiting list for socially rented properties in London, 19.4% of the residents. The scandal, however, is that the borough has more than 2,000 empty homes with 39% owned by the Local Authority and Housing Associations.
Whilst the Empty Homes Agency identified many vacant properties as being privately owned, they described them as often homes inherited from elderly relatives which had fallen into disrepair and where “in many cases the owner lacks the funds or the skills to repair and manage the property.”
On the other hand, as part of the Government’s ongoing war on wealth we are led to believe that Central London is the main protagonist in the empty homes scandal. It is portrayed as an exclusive domain of the very rich and a ghost town, overflowing with vacant second homes. However, none of these statements is true.
Prime London Central (PLC), consisting of the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, sees one third of all of its residential stock socially rented and it has the lowest number of publically owned empty homes in Inner London – only slightly higher than the national average. Furthermore, only 1.4% of property in PLC is classified as long term empty (empty for more than 6 months) and number of people on the waiting list for housing is one of the lowest of all the Inner London Boroughs.
With the latest Census data showing that just 6% of PLC property is held as a second home, there are considerably more ‘lights out’ in holiday destinations such as the Isles of Scilly (12%) and Richmondshire (10%).
“London’s housing crisis is the result of a generation of failed government schemes. Accountability needs to fall with the authorities rather than sophisticated private landlords. Whilst Planning Minster, Nick Boles MP, is advocating the development of greenfield sites, attention should also be focused closer to home with an initiative to bring empty homes in London’s poorest Boroughs back into use. It will be cheaper, quicker and more sustainable” comments Naomi Heaton, CEO of London Central Portfolio.
It cannot go unsaid that the 2012 statistics have been remarkably difficult to get hold of, following their move from the Housing Strategy Statistics Association (HSSA) to the new Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) website. The Guardian, in fact, described the new website as burying the statistics. Collating the new data has become much more complicated with a source at the Local Communities and Local Government saying “we have stopped collecting as much information to reduce our increasing work load”. A strange decision, given information on our empty homes is a first and accessible step to solving the housing crisis.
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