Tuesday, 03 March 2015

The real property scandal

From: Inside out

Last night’s Great British Property Scandal on Channel 4 was good knockabout TV, with plenty of righteous anger about the scandal of empty properties. Presenter George Clarke showed us street after street of boarded up Victorian terraces, mostly in the failed market renewal areas of the North West by the look of them. But I think his anger was misplaced; the real scandal is elsewhere, and his solutions to our housing crisis seem a little naïve, in my view.

Of course it is an utter scandal that so many properties are standing empty and, regrettably, the programme made the housing profession look like a bunch of bureaucratic, blundering idiots, without a creative thought in their collective heads about how to bring these properties back into use. It also made you feel that a new squatting movement to jump-start some effective official action would be morally justified – it’s certainly what I would be doing if I was 25 and without a property to live in.

But even if all of the long-term empties were brought back into use it would still only scratch the surface of housing need. There are around 800,000 empty properties in England but only 280,000 of them are long term empties. The rest are empty for valid reasons - awaiting new tenants or owners to move in, or for probate to be sorted out. Any properly functioning housing market will always have a proportion of empty properties, otherwise it will stagnate.

Yet we have 2 million households on waiting lists and the average age of a first time buyer is 37.

What’s more, as Shelter has pointed out, many long-term empty properties are in places where people do not want to live. I have several times suggested to young people that they should consider moving to Middlesbrough, as you can buy a Victorian terrace there for £10,000. Their response is always the same; “Who the hell wants to live in Middlesbrough?”

No, the real property scandal is the decline in house building to 1920s levels, and the failure to provide enough land for new homes. I agree with George Clarke that we need dense, compact cities, but for many families their ideal home is the suburban house with a garden front and back. Because of population growth we need to build at least 5 million homes over the next twenty years, and as I’ve argued before, no more than 2 million of those can be built within existing urban areas. That means three million need to be built on urban extensions and new settlements. George Clarke’s proposed solutions to the housing crisis simply do not address the urgent scale of the problem and the real property scandal that surrounds us. 

Readers' comments (8)

  • In this day and age there should not be empty homes on one hand and homeless people on the other.

    Even if it is naive to think that bringing empty homes back to use would solve the current housing crisis I think that it is fair to believe that it should have a positive impact and ease some of the pressures across the country.

    I think the fact that people don't want to live in "Middlesbrough" should be addressed and not ignored as this is crucial to the whole housing problem. There are a lot of homes available to address the need but they seem to be located in the ‘wrong places’.

    If investment was made into improving the deprived areas and make the ‘wrong places’ the ‘right places’ then people will want to live in them; and there is already a housing supply available for them.

    If businesses were encouraged to create employment opportunities in these areas, then people will want to live in them. Surely if you improve the prospects of an area then everything else will follow.

    This in conjunction with brining empty homes (the majority family housing with gardens) back to use, to me, seems like a proactive approach to resolving the current problem whilst not having to release more land for 'new builds' in isolated places concentrated mostly in the South East or make our urban areas even more dense.

    If nothing else I welcome George Clarke raising the profile of empty homes across the country and trying to do something about it !

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  • Mobility of labour, housing etc is much reduced compared to how it was in previous generations, people want everything now, and they want it on their doorstep. Ironically some of the most demanding are those who technically are supposed to be in the most need.

    I've lost count of the number of times I've had homeless applicants furious because the right house in the right area is not available for them immediately and they think it's outrageous they're being directly matched to a house that suits their families needs but isn't exactly where they want, which is usually 100 yards from their friends.

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  • Whilst Mr Wiles to point out that the numbers of empty homes even if brought to use will not solve the housing problem, it will surely make some difference to some people.

    From experience housing officers find it easier to increase supply via council subsidized new-build.

    Regards unsuitable location, I bet if these are refurbished and promoted - people will snatch them up - 300,000 empty homes are not to be sniggered at,

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  • Harry Lime - these guys should be allocated what is available and if they don't like it taken off the waiting list. Too much choice - too little responsibility - social housing is a safety net - not a luxury choice.

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  • F451

    Social Housing is not a safety net - that is this government's proposal of how they want social housing to be used.

    For housing to be suitable it needs to not force the person offered it to have to give up their job to accept it - for instance by being moved 200 miles or more away.

    As ever Venk seems to completly have no understanding of the lives of millions of people.

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  • As stated in the example in Birmingham in the programme, the cost of refurbishment was half the cost of new build.
    The programme can help identify the unused properties in each area of the UK, against which the local waiting list could be compared although not a 100% match, I'm sure that the majority could be housed without relocating.
    One of the other potentially unsavoury options the government could consider is that there are thousands of unemployed skilled tradesmen in the UK.These could be tasked with bringing the unused properties up to scratch at less cost than the norm.How difficult could it be for the jobcentre data to be filtered to show available skills?
    Opportunities exist but too much malaise to make them happen.

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  • F451

    Gordon - too much sense to be implemented - using the skills of people without work to provide housing for people without housing - paying people to work to provide something people need - providing homes people can afford without handing over vast and never ending sums of taxpayer money to private landlords - too much sense to be listened to even.

    Leave it to Shapps and his acolytes, they know best - keep those without work without work - keep those without housing without housing - create an entire market based on benefit dependency and let the private landlords profit from all the waste and suffering - far better, so much so that even Labour would do, and did do, the same.

    All is needed is a political center to support that is for sense over dogma. Anybody?

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  • Lets face it capitalism is anarchy in the most negative sense and fundamentally socially irresponsible. The only kind of freedoms that most capitalists recognise is the anything goes tendency even if it means creating totally dysfunctional chaos for everyone around them. No doubt someone will come up with the theory that chaos is somehow healthy and creative.

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