Chris Bailey argues Members of Parliament agree that more needs to be done about empty homes

The Coalition for Community Investment, led by Action on Empty Homes, draws support from across the housing world and argues for central government to re-engage with the regeneration of areas of England variously described as 'left-behind' or 'in decline'. At Action on Empty Homes we prefer to term these areas ‘under-invested’, This is because we know that it is investment which will ultimately make the difference.

In looking at these under-invested areas of England, some commentators also draw comparisons between industrial decline, low-value property markets and Brexit support. They use this to create a narrative of 'left behind' or alienated protest voting. But this is by no means clear-cut; not least because in the last year two-thirds of English councils experienced rising numbers of long-term empty homes. So while this is a problem whose worst impacts can be seen in the most marginalised and under-invested areas, it is by no means restricted to them.

It is striking to reflect that we are in the grip of a national housing crisis yet are building fewer social homes than in last 70 years and have cancelled all national programmes to invest in bringing empty housing back into use.

In this context, the results of our MP polling were striking, we see a stark dichotomy between national government policy and the views of Members of Parliament across the house, regardless, in most cases, of political affiliation.

ComRes polling of MPs commissioned by Action on Empty Homes for the Coalition on Community Investment shows huge cross-party parliamentary support for action on empty homes:

  • 86% of MPs polled agreeing that the government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes.
  • 72% rank action to bring England’s 216,000 plus long-term empty homes back into use as one of their highest two priorities for combatting the current housing crisis.
  • Over 80% also supported targeted funding for local authorities, charities and local organisations to buy, lease or refurbish empty homes.
  • 68% believe landlords who own empty homes which have been vacant for more than a year should be required to bring them back into use.
  • 77% support charging a council tax premium on empty homes after they have been empty for a year, rather than the current two years.

At Action on Empty Homes and the Coalition for Community Investment, we support a mixed economy approach to solving the empty homes problem. We believe in using both enhanced powers of enforcement and in funding action and incentives at local level. We call for significant targeted investment (of around £450 million) set against initial targets for delivery of 20,000 empty homes returned to use, linked to significant improvements in the worst-hit communities.

Action on Empty Homes also support calls for a major national programme of social housing construction but believe that returning empty homes to use is a potentially easy win for Government, not least now. As Government looks to ameliorate the impact of past decline and current uncertainty on England’s most vulnerable communities. The public agrees with us. Recent polling shows levels of support for action at similar 80% plus levels to those amongst legislators. Now we hope that the government will listen too.