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The Other Issue is a series of three publications raising awareness about vacant properties and the impact which they have on the community. The controversial issue affects everyone, from those on the Council Waiting Lists, to others who live attached to one of these vacant properties. This issue will raise these topics in the local area, as well as nationwide, to give an overal awareness of the issue.


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The startling picture of neglect – we estimate that more than 450,000 properties have been empty for at least six months – at a time when there is an acute housing shortage. These figures were pieced together using information gathered from local councils under the Freedom of Information Act. Our findings suggest the number of “long term vacant” properties is 25% higher than previously thought. David Ireland, chief executive of independent charity the

OVER A MILLION HOUSES ARE LYING EMPTY... Empty Homes Agency said the empty stock would go some way towards tackling the housing crisis – 1.8 million households are waiting for a council house – as opposed to the government’s focus on building new homes to tackle the problem. “Refurbishing empty homes cannot deal with the entire housing crisis but it can make an important contribution,” he said. A lack of reliable information has hampered the efforts of campaigners trying to draw attention to the problem and research, gleaned from 284 councils, is the first time data from across Britain has been pulled together. Highlighting the scale of the problem, the figure provided by one London borough was nearly 30 times higher than that used in official figures.Ireland said the reservoir of property could be vital given the dent in the government’s pledge to build 3m new homes made by the credit crunch and attendant property crash. “It is yet further evidence of the need for government to revisit a housing policy which is based almost entirely on building new houses,” he said of the Guardian’s research. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), however, argues that the financial treatment of empty homes would have to change to make councils grasp the nettle. “For every empty home that is brought back into use the council sees a reduction in its annual central government grant,” James Rowlands, policy project manager at Rics explained. “Many councils prefer the security of a guaranteed government grant rather than the less reliable income from the council tax on a refurbished property.” Ireland said the number of empty homes may be inflated if second homes have not been properly accounted or underestimated if regeneration projects which have been put on hold during the recession are excluded. A number of big inner city regeneration projects resulted in large numbers of homes becoming empty, because residents have been moved out. However, those properties are often excluded from empty homes data. So too are some private sector apartment developments which have been purposely left uncompleted to avoid incurring council tax. Rowlands agreed that data on empty homes is imperfect – many councils, rely on complaints to identify empty homes. “There is no doubt that empty homes are a blight on local communities. They attract social disorder and have a very negative impact on the neighbourhood.”

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1.8

MILLION HOUSEHOLDS ARE WAITING FOR A COUNCIL HOUSE


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25%

OF FAMILIES ON WAITING LISTS COULD BE HOUSED BY VACANT PROPERTIES

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RICs want to see VAT on home improvements reduced to 5% to make refurbishment of derelict properties more affordable. But Rowlands believes there also has to be a renewed effort to improve the regime to encourage owners to renovate their empty properties. “The government introduced new rules which were intended to make it easier for local authorities to bring empty homes back into ownership but there are now doubts about the effectiveness of empty dwellings management orders and I think we need a new approach which improves the dialogue between councils and owners and encourages them to work together to address this issue,” Rowlands said. The TUC wants to see a tough approach in a bid to help those waiting for homes – it has argued for severe financial penalties to be imposed on owners of empty properties, such as council tax bills at five times the standard rate. As part of its research the Guardian attempted to identify how many empty properties are owned by people or companies based overseas – but, only 179 councils could provide figures, or even estimates, for overseas owners of empty properties. The Guardian estimates that more than 11,000 empty properties are owned by people living abroad. However, that estimate is less reliable as fewer than half of councils were able to provide data. Some councils are already grappling with the problem of empty houses. In Birmingham – the council with the biggest number of empty homes, at 9,000 – the council launched an empty property strategy in 2007, and vacancy rates are now down by 5,000 on their 2003 levels. Councillor John Lines, Birmingham’s cabinet member for housing said: “It’s 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.” The Guardian’s research shows, as might be expected, that empty homes are at their highest in urban areas, where population density is greatest. Birmingham, for instance, has 1 million citizens and is the biggest council by population in Britain. David Ireland at the Empty Homes Agency, said inner city brownfield sites, as well as vacant houses, offer potential for more homes: “Research conducted in two London boroughs, which examined the housing potential on underutilised brownfield areas concluded that there was sufficient land to build 26,000 new homes in each borough.” He is keen to see a new government housing policy which considers a wider range of initiatives including brownfield sites and empty homes as well as new houses. “My concern is that because it is difficult to quantify the number of empty homes and it is difficult for councils to encourage owners to refurbish them, the issue will become swamped by the imperative to build new homes which is actually a more attractive financial proposition for local authorities,” he said. Housing charity Shelter Scotland has secured Scottish government support for the appointment of an empty homes champion who will promote the use empty homes as a way of increasing housing supply and improving neighbourhoods.

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“ALMOST HALF A MILLION HOMES ARE LYING EMPTY IN THE UK – ENOUGH TO PUT A ROOF OVER THE HEADS OF A QUARTER OF THE FAMILIES ON COUNCIL HOUSE WAITING LISTS”.


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“MY CONCERN IS THAT BECAUSE IT IS DIFFICULT TO QUANTIFY THE NUMBER OF EMPTY HOMES AND IT IS DIFFICULT FOR COUNCILS TO ENCOURAGE OWNERS TO REFURBISH THEM THAT THE ISSUE WILL BECOME SWAMPED BY THE IMPERATIVE TO BUILD NEW HOMES WHICH IS ACTUALLY A MORE ATTRACTIVE FINANCIAL PROPOSITION FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES,” David Ireland (Empty Homes Agency)

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7,610

HOUSEHOLDS IN NORTHAMPTON ARE ON COUNCIL AND HOUSING ASSOCIATION WAITING LISTS

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FOR MORE THAN SIX MONTHS

ESTIMATED TO HAVE LAIN EMPTY

HOMES IN ENGLAND ARE

450,000

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In total, well over 930,00 properties are thought to be uninhabited, and while they slowly deteriorate and cause problems for those around them, an estimated 4.5 million people wait for social housing. John has been living next to an empty home for years. “It has become derelict, attracts criminals, has broken windows and has damaged my walls,” he says. Tracy walks past a whole block in east London that has been empty since it was

EMPTY HOMES FALL APART WHILE THOUSANDS HAVE NOWHERE TO LIVE built at the height of the housing boom. “The block backs on to the Lee Navigation and has views directly over the Olympic Stadium, but sadly no one is getting to enjoy the view,” she says. These are some of an estimated 450,000 homes in England that have lain empty for more than six months and among scores of stories we heard about disused properties in your neighbourhoods. The government’s housing strategy, released last month, included £100m to try to bring some of these properties back into use and a consultation on allowing local councils to charge an “empty homes premium” when a property has been out of use for longer than two years. The strategy said “a neglected home can quickly start to cause problems for neighbours, depressing the value of adjacent properties and attracting nuisance, squatting and criminal activity”. According to homelessness charity Shelter, even bringing all of them back into use would not be enough to solve the UK’s housing crisis – but it is clear it would improve the lives of those living nearby. The Local Government Association is keen on plans to allow its members to use council tax as a way to bring properties back into use, but is less happy about the government’s plans to restrict use of one of the other levers – empty dwelling management orders. It says the use of these powers, which have allowed them to act against property owners who refuse to cooperate, “should be a matter of legitimate local political choice and the proposals restrict this”. David Ireland, chief executive of the charity Empty Homes, is positive about the moves outlined in the strategy, but says there are reasons why homes fall into disuse that are hard to address. “Whatever is happening in the market, nationally or locally, you always get a core of properties that are fairly immune to financial levers – people could have done something but just haven’t yet,” he says. “A lot of things then get stacked on top of that – a lack of availability of credit for example.” Ireland’s comments have been borne out by our research: when we started looking at how the properties you told us about had become empty, the economic recession, stalled council regeneration projects, tighter lending criteria and death were just some of the reasons we unearthed.

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“WHEN I MOVED IN, THE EMPTY PROPERTY DIDN’T LOOK THAT BAD, THERE WAS A BIT OF FLY-TIPPING IN THE BACK GARDEN BUT THAT WAS IT. SINCE THEN, THE GARDEN (BOTH FRONT AND BACK) HAS TURNED INTO A RAMPANT FOREST OF BRAMBLES, [THE OWNER] HAS ALSO LEFT THE UPSTAIRS WINDOWS WIDE OPEN, WHICH HAS LED TO NUMEROUS PROBLEMS IN MY HOUSE, SUCH AS MOULD ON MY WALLS. THIS WAS PARTICULARLY BAD DURING THE -10C AND SNOWY WEATHER WE HAD LAST YEAR.” Eleanor, Oxfordshire

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£36,702

IS THE ANNUAL INCOME NEEDED IN NORTHAMPTON TO BUY AN AVERAGE HOME

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18%

IS THE VALUE PROPERTIES CLOSE TO AN ABANDONED HOUSE CAN BE LOWERED IN COMPARISION TO EQUIVALENT PROPERTIES FURTHER AFIELD.


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The Local Government Association is keen on plans to allow its members to use council tax as a way to bring properties back into use, but is less happy about the government’s plans to restrict use of one of the other levers – empty dwelling management orders. It says the use of these powers, which have allowed them to act against property owners who refuse to cooperate, “should be a matter of legitimate local political choice and the proposals restrict this”. David Ireland, chief executive of the charity Empty Homes, is positive about the moves outlined in the strategy, but says there are reasons why homes fall into disuse that are hard to address. “Whatever is happening in the market, nationally or locally, you always get a core of properties that are fairly immune to financial levers – people could have done something but just haven’t yet,” he says. “A lot of things then get stacked on top of that – a lack of availability of credit for example.” Ireland’s comments have been borne out by our research: when we started looking at how the properties you told us about had become empty, the economic recession, stalled council regeneration projects, tighter lending criteria and death were just some of the reasons we unearthed. One reader told us about a property owned by a relative. The home, in Yorkshire, has fallen into disrepair after years of neglect, and family members are unable to persuade her to do anything about it. They are nervous about inheriting an empty property, and would welcome a compulsory pur- Government Housing Strategy chase order by the council. Another reader told us about a property in Cardiff that has been empty since spring, when she and her husband were given it by an ageing relative. There are 10 other homes for sale on the road, so they decided letting it would be the best option, but to bring it up to lettable standards they need to borrow money and, despite them both having steady jobs, they struggled to find a mortgage lender willing to take them on. We also heard about cases where developers and councils had run out of the money needed to get properties completed or refurbished, and homes were lying empty as a result.

“A NEGLECTED HOME CAN QUICKLY START TO CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR NEIGHBOURS, DEPRESSING THE VALUE OF ADJACENT PROPERTIES AND ATTRACTING NUISANCE, SQUATTING AND CRIMINAL ACTIVITY”

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LYING EMPTY

ESTIMATED TO BE

SUITABLE FLATS ARE

100,000

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Financial institutions are looking like poor estate managers by letting flats go empty over shops and other town centre businesses, says the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The RICS calculates that more than 80,000 people now homeless or living in unsuitable accommodations could be housed if just 80 of these institutions changed their policy. Some owners of town centre properties are now seeing the sense in letting previously vacant flats, gaining rent and secu-

SURVEYORS PRESS OWNERS TO FILL FLATS ABOVE SHOPS rity as a result. Boots is renting out flats on the market, and Norwich Union has assisted RICS in a new scheme. Last month a single-parent family moved from a hostel into a flat over a shop as tenants of the Housing Association. The cost of refurbishing the property were met by the association with a grant from the local council. Property owner Norwich Union and leaseholder QS Familywear co-operated in enabling the project. RICS says many more empty flats could be let if the owners co- operated; the retailers themselves are often prevented by the terms of their leases from sub-letting.

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As part of the Spare Space? campaign, RICS representatives are visiting financial institutions that own an estimated 80 per cent of the properties deemed sutiable for occupancy. The campaign chairman, Michael Newey, said the effort may be extended to encouraging shareholders to put pressure on companies to change policy. “At an estimate, there are 100,000 suitable flats lying empty,” Mr Newey said, adding that the Government had put the figure in London alone at 93,000. “80% of these are owned by 80 organisations, and the decisions of these 80 probably have more effect than the policies of local authorities. The prohibition in leases of anyone living or eating on the premises is writing off large numbers of properties.” Both RICS and the Institute of Housing have called for 100,000 new properties a year to be built to deal with the housing shortage. Mr Newey suggested that a policy review by property owners could therefore save large amounts of green belt land from development. “It is a matter of releasing the land’s hidden resources,” he said. The advent of assured short- hold tenancies, which do not provide security of tenure, should have encouraged property owners to review practice on leases,” he added. The RICS initiative has attracted criticism, however, from the Living Over The Shop scheme funded by the Department of Environment and the Housing Corporation. Ann Petherick, director of LOTS, said: “They have duplicated what I have already done. It is unfortunate RICS got involved. There are structural reasons for the problems, and the institutions have no control over what happens once a property is leased. They can’t take the initiative. The wording of leases can only be changed once owners see the successes - not by people telling them to do it.”

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Fewer than 1,000 new houses a year were built in Northampton over the past decade, new figures have revealed. Documents published by the West Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit (JPU) showed that between 2001 and 2011, only 16,356 new homes were built across Northampton, Daventry and Towcester, with only 9,339 of those in the county town.

FEWER THAN 10,000 NEW HOMES HAVE BEEN BUILT IN NORTHAMPTON SINCE 2001 The figures reflected the massive downturn in the housing market since the global economic crisis hit in 2006 and officials from the JPU said the west of Northamptonshire will have to build thousands more houses over the coming decade to keep up with the area’s housing needs. The chairman of the JPU, South Northamptonshire Council leader, Councillor Mary Clarke (Con, Old Stratford) said: “All our research shows that west Northamptonshire needs around 50,000 new homes to be built between 2001 and 2026 in order to meet local needs. “To date we’ve seen over 16,300 new houses built, which leaves nearly 33,800 still to be built. “Sites for nearly 19,500 houses already have planning permission, leaving a further 14,300 to be identified.” When the JPU last published housing expansion plans for the area in January 2011, they showed how seven large housing estates could be built around the edge of Northampton, on sites including Buckton Fields, near Whitehills, Dallington Heath, near Kings Heath, and near Collingtree. The proposals were met with immediate opposition from anti-expansion campaigners, who warned the new devel- Shelter local housing watch opments would become ‘the Grange Parks of the future’. But others welcomed the fact the proposed number of new houses to be built had dropped from 62,125 in 2009 to 50,150. The JPU’s latest documents did not identify specific sites where new houses could go. Instead, they showed the results of an investigation of 886 potential development sites across the area. Of the sites, 103 were considered deliverable within five years, 204 had ‘constraints which could be overcome’ and the rest were rejected. Councillor Clarke said: “The new report seeks to provide greater clarity to landowners, developers and local communities. The identification of a site does not necessarily mean that development will occur. It shows what land is technically available, and it will be up to councillors to determine which sites are brought forward for development.”

AT THIS RATE IT WILL TAKE 6.74 YEARS TO CLEAR THE COUNCIL HOUSE WAITING LIST


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THE BUILDING IS IN THE PROCESS OF BEING MOTHBALLED, STAGE ONE OF WHICH INVOLVES CONCRETE BLOCKS BEING POSITIONED ROUND IT TO STOP LOOTERS SMASH-ANDGRABBING THE VALUABLE COPPER CABLING AND PIPEWORK INSIDE. CCTV IS BEING FITTED AND A SECURITY PATROL EMPLOYED TO KEEP AN EYE ON IT. THE TOTAL COST? AN EYE-WATERING £100,000 A YEAR. “THIS IS THE LUCKY ONE,” THE OWNER OF THE BUILDING TOLD ME “I’M DEMOLISHING THE OTHERS.” Owner of block of flats

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5 REASONS TO RESCUE AN EMPTY HOUSE David Ireland is an expert in property - but better than that, he’s done what he talks about. David shares with us his top tips on to how to rescue a house and turn an unloved property into the home of your dreams‌

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You can create the home you want, not the one somebody else wants to sell you. Sure neglected homes need work, but they should be priced accordingly. You can spend the money you save on getting it exactly how you want it.

You can save a piece of this green and pleasant land. There is a huge house building programme planned in England, and much of it will involve building on the countryside. Every home that is created out of an empty property should mean one less new one needs to be built.


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Less competition. Most neglected homes are not on the market, and even those that are for sale tend to get marketed less vigorously than other houses. This puts you as the potential buyer in the driving seat.

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Pay less VAT. Out of every pound you spend on renovating most houses 17 ½p goes to the government. But it’s different for many empty homes; you may only have to pay 5p in the pound. Some empty properties are even exempt from VAT altogether.

No property chain. One of the most awkward aspects of moving house is relying on a whole chain of buyers and sellers to coordinate their transactions. The only way out of this is if you buy a property with vacant possession, an empty property in fact!


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WHY DOES IT MATTER? WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Many people in the UK need homes. There are 1.7 million families on housing waiting lists, and the country’s population is growing. Yet house building rates are at the lowest since the 1920s. Other than building more homes, reusing empty homes provides one of the few other sources of housing. What’s more it can do so at an affordable price. Surveys have shown that the average cost of renovating an empty home is about £10,000. Reusing empty homes can also have environmental benefits. Recent research found that renovation of an empty house creates about a third of the CO2 emissions of building a new house.

If you own an empty property, know someone who does, or even know where one is located then please share this information. Without it your help we cannot make progress on changing vacant, deteriorating houses, back in homes that people can make a life in. With so many people on the waiting lists there has never beena more urgent need for affordable housing.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? For more information about The Other Issue then please visit out website:

WWW.THEOTHERISSUE.CO.UK

The Royal Institute of British Architects champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members.

The Big Issue Foundation is a national charity which connects vendors with the vital support and solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives and journey away from homelessness.

Shelter is a charity that works to alleviate the distress caused by homelessness and bad housing.

The Other Issue - Residential  

A newspaper about the housing crisis