This January Councils called, through the Local Government Association, for urgent action on the housing crisis. They presented a six point plan to address the issue of 127,000 children experiencing our current national lockdown in often unsuitable and over-crowded Temporary Accommodation; which councils are responsible for providing.

Below we look at their plan, which starts with a call for better powers to take action on empty homes.

First we look at the notion of a housing crisis, a crisis which isn't going to be solved by building alone. What matters is what is built, who it is for and how it is built. As well as what it costs to live there.

Nationally we all know there is a housing crisis but what exactly does that mean?

It is a crisis of affordability:

Because house prices in many areas are unaffordable to almost all people on average or lower incomes, in many areas deposits alone require large five or even six figure sums.

It is also a crisis of quality:

Every time someone mentions the 'cladding crisis' every one in housing says - "Don't you mean 'the building safety crisis'?" Because every time building owners from housing associations to the owners of private housing developments and commercial buildings 'open' a recently constructed building to check for flammable Grenfell-style insulation and cladding, they find other problems: fire-stopping missed, compartmentalisation failures, combustible fillers used instead of fire retardent solutions (as around the new smaller window apertures at Grenfell, which allowed the first kitchen fire to spread to the lethally flammable cladding outside the building). 

Then there are the new-build homes that don't meet the EPC levels they claim because of poor workmanship and cost-saving corner-cutting; and of course our old foe 'lax building regulations'.

And it is a crisis of homelessness impacting families and children 

Above all, for many local councils, the housing crisis is particularly about homeless families who councils accept they owe a duty to house but for whom they lack accommodation. Not least because each year we sell off at least three times as many socially rented homes as we build.

And while the 1 million plus on waiting lists for social rent housing are one measure, the 100,000 families with 127,000 children in Temporary Accommodation this lockdown are, with those in hostels and on the streets, or staying in dangerous family situations for fear of destitution, very much at the sharp end.

Last month the Local Government Association drew attention to this and presented a six point plan for action to Government, which began with a call for action on empty homes. Their spokesman was the Conservative leader of Swindon Council, Councillor David Renard, who said "Our six-point plan would give councils a better chance of being able to move homeless children into permanent accommodation and also minimise the risk of other households becoming homeless as a result of the pandemic." 

This is the the Local Government Association's six point plan in full:

The LGA, which represents councils, is calling for a package of measures including:

  1. Powers for councils to acquire empty homes, including making it easier to use Compulsory Purchase Order powers to buy properties and help move households on from temporary accommodation;
  2. Improved protection through the welfare system, including maintaining the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit and maintaining Local Housing Allowance rates at the lowest third of market rents – both of these measures are currently due to be removed in April;
  3. An immediate review of the impact of the overall benefits cap in the context of the pandemic;
  4. Ensuring that councils have enough resources to support households at risk of homelessness – this includes proper resourcing for local welfare schemes, which play a vital role in alleviating financial hardship;
  5. Setting out plans to deliver a step-change in social housing – the LGA is calling for 100,000 social homes for rent to be delivered every year
  6. Bringing forward the Government’s pledge to end ‘no fault evictions’, which will prevent more households from becoming homeless once the stay on bailiff proceedings is lifted.

You can read more on the LGA plan and the equivalent of 450 primary schools of children whose futures are being blighted by insecurity and inadequate housing conditions here:

Two reports from the Childrens Commissioner fill out the true bleakness of this picture - read 'Bleak Houses' (2019) here and 'No Way Out' (2020) here.

The time for action on 268,385 wasted long-term empty homes is now.

These are homes empty 'for no good reason', which require enforcement, incentives or intervention to bring into use and councils want to act. They are part of a total national vacant stock of over 650,000 homes which are currently vacant (without even counting 263,000 so-called 'second homes, many unused, that are protected from council enforcement and have no residential use).

So lets not hear that our vacancy level is low any more and lets start to make some progress for the sake of the many individual futures and communities we are blighting; and for those 127,000 children. Because every home helps and every social or genuinely affordable home helps most.