A Bethnal Green home left empty for months while Peabody attempted auction sell-offs on three occasions, is now to house a homeless family after a successful campaign led by local activists, which was backed by Action on Empty Homes.

Action on Empty Homes drew attention to the National Housing Federation's recent Great Places Commission Report recommendation in favour of ethical disposal policies by housing associations. These should prioritise meeting local housing needs and keeping valuable social homes as exactly that. 

We oppose such sell-offs for three primary reasons:

1. Social homes should not be sold off into the private sector as this worsens the housing crisis, a major feature of which is a shortage of decent, affordable social homes. Transferring social homes into the Private Rented Sector reduces protections for tenants and can, particularly in lower value markets, accelerate neighbourhood decline as local housing becomes dominated by a low investment management model.

2. Disposal of property by auction makes it more likely that the property will be purchased by investors or absentee landlords who often leave properties vacant for long periods.

3. The process of disposal itself, as in this case, can result in long periods empty when properties fail to sell and are kept empty awaiting the next auction date. Sometimes properties are also bought and re-sold at auction without any work being done or any occupants moving in.

Commenting on the proposed sell-off Will McMahon, Action on Empty Homes Director said,

Will McMahon, Director of Action on Empty Homes said:

'At a time of national housing crisis, it is worrying to see any home kept empty by any landlord, social or private. But what is particularly concerning about this example is that this home is vitally needed in a Borough which is spending tens of millions a year on temporary accommodation as a result of housing shortages.

'Action on Empty Homes has been working with housing organisations and auctioneers to seek an end to this kind of irresponsible sell-off, because so many homes sold at auction simply remain empty, bought unseen by investors hoping to make a quick profit or happy simply to wait for an increase in value which doesn’t always come.

'Worse still are those like 17 Robinson Road which never even make it off the auction merry go round and remain empty for years as a result, becoming increasingly run-down and difficult to return to use, while blighting the lives of neighbours and communities as targets for vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

'We were pleased when the National Housing Federation, which represents social landlords like Peabody, recently proposed to its members adoption of ethical disposal policies which could end such sell-offs and ensure that these homes remain in use as housing for those who desperately need it. In our latest Report on Community Based Approaches to Empty Homes we echo this recommendation.

'We urge Peabody to consider adopting such an ethical disposals policy. More importantly, we are keen to see 17 Robinson Road brought back into use as a much-needed social home for people in Tower Hamlets.'

According to Government statistics, the number of social homes in England declined last year by over 13,000. While we hear a lot about plans to build new housing, the shocking truth is that in the last year we built only 6,400 new social homes across England and sold 20,000 through a combination of sell-offs like this Tower Hamlets example and right to buy. Meanwhile the number of empty homes went up across England by 11,000 between 2017 and 2018 to a shocking 216,000 long-term empty homes

Read the full story on this successful local campaign in the local press here

See our take on this successful campaign work led by local housing activists here, on Twitter