How many empty homes are there near where you live? It is estimated that there are around 350,000 long term empty houses in England.

In these homes could live one of the two million British families currently on waiting lists for a council or housing association home.

According to last night’s Channel4 documentary, many of these homes were emptied by the councils to make way for new, larger housing in the previous Labour’s government’s Pathfinder scheme.

According to this report, “The schemes refurbished 40,000 properties and demolished 10,000, building 1,000 new homes” and cost £2bn.

 

 

The project was halted last year by the Conservative/Lib Dem government half way through it’s 15 year running time, as Channel 4 reported at the time. It seems slightly disingenuous to put all of the blame on the last government, when this one was the one to pull the plug.

At any rate, Pathfinder was responsible for some of the empty homes shown last night, but not all of them. And we can jiggle the figures and shift the blame as much as we want, at the end of the day it does not help those living in sub-standard housing.

The single mum living in a squalid house shows just how bad things are. She had to take a lamp into the kitchen as the ceiling light did not work The tangle of electrical wires, the damp and mouldy walls – the whole house was a massive fire hazard. For this dump, she paid  £450 monthly rent.

 

I wrote recently about the government’s new Housing Strategy, but the post got lost in my blog breakdown last month, so I am going to summarise it here.

Grant Shapps’s Housing Strategy shows just how far from real life those in power are.

The basics: 

• £400m investment in new development, supporting housebuilders in need of development finance including small and medium sized builders

• Mortgage indemnity scheme designed with the Home Builders Federation and Cou

ncil of Mortgage Lenders to offer 95% loan to value mortgages for new build properties in England, to support 100,000 households

• Free up public sector land with “build now, pay later” deals for developers, releasing enough land to build 100,000 new homes and create up to 200,000 new jobs in the construction industry

• £400m earmarked for FirstBuy, to help 10,500 first time buyers with the help of an equity loan up to 20%

• A Custom Homes programme worth £30m to help individuals build their own homes, offering short-term project finance for independent projects

• Right-to-buy o
• £100m in funding to bring empty homes back into use, and a further £50m to tackle the worst concentrations of empty homeswners will be offered a discount of as much as half the value of their homes. Homes sold through right-to-buy will be matched by new homes developed for social rent

• Consultation on an ‘empty homes premium’ added to council tax, payable if a home is left unattended for more than two years. Receipts from this additional tax used to bring homes back into use

 

Why on earth is £400m being invested in more houses, when that money could be used to renovate the ones that are sitting empty? Do we need more new builds that cost 2 – 3 times the price of an ex local authority house? Has Cameron been out to see the housing estates that are sitting unsold all over the country? Maybe it is just in the area where I am from but if you check out Rightmove at present, you will find pages of these “McMansions”. Clachan View Gamekeepers View  Iolaire  - they are all shiny and new, often with twee “country” names, outside villages and town so that you need to drive everywhere. I would much rather spend my (imaginary) £300k on something like this.

Encouraging those who do not have a deposit saved to take out a 95% mortgage – isn’t that what got us into this mess in the first place? Does Cameron know that even saving 5% deposit for a house is almost impossible for many? Take a normal 3-bed house in Dundee, where my parents live. Cost: around £100k. Deposit: £5k.

Saving a deposit of £5 might not sound like a lot, when you spend that on a weekend away, Mr Cameron but when you only earn £20k – where is that money coming from? Considering the family is likely paying about £500 a month on shabby rented accommodation.

Which brings me neatly to my next point.

Private rentals. There must be much more done to stop people being ripped off by unscrupulous landlords. It is incredible that in Health and Safety concious Britain, where an office worker is not allowed to change a light bulb, private tenants are living in such dangerous conditions. There must be stronger legislation for renters, and more encouragement for landlords to offer long-term rental periods. Perhaps a tax cut if the landlord agrees to a longer lease?

The only way out of the miserable private rental sector is to buy a house (out of the question for many, particularly in London area) or local authority housing schemes. Oh, but we are going to sell those off, aren’t we? We need more LA houses, not less. If we sell them all off, then that leaves more families on the private rental market.

Part of the new strategy was that the sales of the RTB houses would fund building of new houses, although I cannot see how that would work. If you sell a house worth £200k

at half market price, what kind of house are you going to build with that £100k?

 

The main problem, in my opinion, of housing in UK is the massive gulf between earnings and house prices. If the average salary is £25k, but the average house price £241k then there is a massive problem.

According to this calculator, the monthly payment for a £241k house, at 6% over 20 years would be £1700 – over £20k a year.  Even saving up the 20% deposit of £40k would be beyond many people.

A single earner on average pay can borrow £100k – fine for a house in Scotland, but not in SE England.

 

Unless the government do more to tackle the issues, and realise that helping people to buy their own home is not the be  and end all of the matter, things are not likely to change in the near future. Not everyone has to have their own home, but the terrible situation in the private rental sector is what drives most to attempt this.
Affordable, clean and safe housing should be the priority. Not building new homes, but encouraging the owners of the empty homes to renovate and rent those homes.

 

 

Want to do more?
The charity Empty Homes is campaigning on this issue.
Read more about the Empty Homes Scandal campaign on Channel 4.
Information on how to rescue a Empty Home

 

 

2 Comments

 

  1. Pingback : Buying, Selling and Renting a House in UK | saltandcaramel.com

  2. April 3, 2012  9:28 am by J. Hill (@tottwriter) Reply

    Commenting on this late, but I wholeheartedly agree.

    While it would be nice to own a home, and be able to decorate it how I like or make changes to the layout, at the end of the day all I really want is to know that if I choose, I can have the same roof over my head in twenty or thirty years as I do now. I want my children to be able to leave home and come back with their children, to the same house year after year.

    I don't have that security now. I live in the SE and have the misfortune to have health problems which will most likely prevent me from ever finding full-time work. How am I supposed to find a stable home?

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