At last count, there were over 600,000 empty homes in England – that equates to two years’ worth of the government’s targets for new home completions.
Of those, more than 200,000 are classed as ‘long-term empty’ – meaning they’ve stood empty for more than six months – and this represents around 1% of the total housing stock in the country.
At the time of a national housing crisis, common sense would say that a crucial tactic for tackling this growing crisis would be to make better use of existing stock.
With more than a million people on housing waiting lists up and down the country, it’s a travesty that houses stand empty in our communities.
There can be any number of reasons why a home is empty at any point in time, but we can’t ignore the fact that a good proportion of these properties stand unused and neglected, and with a little investment, could be brought back into use to not only provide homes for those who need them, but to help regenerate communities.
In some areas there is a great deal of work being done by local authorities, housing providers and private landlords to tackle empty homes. The success of such projects can be seen in Salford, where Salix Homes is based.
10 years ago, there were over 3,000 empty homes in the town. That figure now stands at just over 1,000, a reduction of almost 70%. Nationally, long-term empty homes have only been reduced by half that.
Partners here are working together to utilise the government’s Empty Homes Scheme, which ran until 2016 and provides grants to gap-fund refurbishment work. The condition being that the landlord must guarantee the homes would be let as affordable housing for a minimum of five years. We then let the homes via our ethical private lettings agency, Salix Living.
It’s win-win for all involved: More affordable homes available for people in housing-need, a guaranteed income for the homeowner and the blight of empty buildings removed from our communities. On many occasions, this additional supply of homes to the market place has given a roof over the head of someone at risk of homelessness – an outcome that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.
But it’s not just empty homes. In Salford we’ve set our targets on empty buildings in general, which have so far included shops, pubs and even an old job centre.
Society has changed, high streets are in decline and last orders are being called at boozers up and down the country, leaving these once thriving community hubs deserted and neglected.
Repurposing these buildings, which are often in key central locations, helps breathe life back into our high street, regenerate communities and, most importantly, to tackle the housing crisis.