On August 12th Action on Empty Homes, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and Prosper Australia, announced the launch of the Global Empty Homes Network (GEHN). The global consortium of NGO housing organizations and partners are collaborating to understand the international forces exacerbating the global housing crisis. The three organizations, based in the UK, the US, and Australia respectively, will focus particularly on the mismatch between empty homes and housing need.


“Many countries face the prospect of both an increase in homelessness and an increase in empty homes as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. At this critical time, it is imperative governments look to the long term and prevent both a surge of evictions and repossessions”, says Will McMahon, Director of Action on Empty Homes, a London-based organization.  “The housing market must be protected from speculative purchases of distressed assets from global players.”


GEHN will gather not only NGO leaders but also housing policy experts, local governments and philanthropists, to study the magnitude of the problem, understand how vacancies are impacting different markets, and share best practices for solving the problem. The group plans to share these strategies with the United Nations for consideration.


Though neither the housing crisis nor the plague of vacant houses is new, organizers say the situation is coming to a dangerous tipping point. It is predicted that, as economies continue to struggle, the spectre of hundreds of thousands of foreclosure actions will lead to families losing their homes and to communities across the globe facing neighborhoods full of housing vacancies. 


There is also concern over a growing trend of large international investors with very deep pockets buying up entire neighborhoods. 


“The more empty homes there are for sale, the more can be snapped up in bulk by these investors awash in equity, diminishing the opportunity for genuinely affordable homes,” adds McMahon.


“The economic fallout of Covid-19 has pushed the United States to the edge of a housing cliff,” says Denise Scott, Executive Vice President at LISC. “Unless we act now, the pandemic will cause massive displacement of renters and homeowners and create swathes of vacant homes across America – at levels that eclipse even the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Black and Brown people, once again, will disproportionately suffer the consequences. Today’s housing market is a global housing market and we need bold, global principles that we can carry out locally. This is the only way to close the chronic and critical gap between housing that provides affordable, quality shelter and “housing” as wealth investment.”


The network cites one solution as crucial moving forward—ensuring communities’ access to more transparent information about housing utilisation. 


Karl Fitzgerald, Director of Research at Proper Australia, says: “Most nations do not produce an independent statistical measure of vacancy that includes both vacant properties for rent and those left as vacant investment vehicles. This has allowed the development lobby a free rein to claim land supply is the dominant driver of affordability pressures, rather than the speculative behaviour of property investors. With vacancies expected to sharply rise during the pandemic, governments must move to deter such behaviour by taxing empty land and housing.”


In light of the urgency of the housing crisis and the exacerbating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, GEHN is immediately calling for countries to adopt ten principles to meet the extreme impact of the pandemic on housing needs.


GEHN calls for:


  1. Sheltering people during a public health crisis as a key priority, as housing is a key social determinant of health.


  1. The surplus of empty properties that Covid-19 will create due to homeowner financial distress to be protected by governments from global speculative funds seeking to buy up distressed stock, depriving families of genuinely affordable homes.


  1. Governments to measure vacancies and particularly ‘speculative vacancies’ e.g. those properties held empty for financial gains rather than placed on the rental market, so that quality data can inform policy.


  1. Renters to be protected from eviction caused by a loss of income resulting from the crisis.


  1. Homeowners faced with payment defaults to be offered mortgage suspension (without interest penalties) or debt forgiveness.


  1. A moratorium on commercial evictions to protect small businesses and community organizations from liquidation.


  1. Property revaluations and loss of home equity from foreclosure and repossession to be halted until the Covid-19 financial crisis is over.


  1. Where appropriate, governments to require sacrifices by privatized monopolies (called public utilities and public authorities in the US) to assist financially strapped homeowners and renters, such as temporary discounts on utilities.


  1. Governments to look to incentivize community-led housing models e.g. Community Land Trusts and community/NGO-owned affordable housing.


  1. Governments to make investment in retrofitting of empty homes a key part of the Covid-19 recovery effort.


The three founding organizations state GEHN’s overarching goal as: “We must do everything in our power to make sure that stable, safe, affordable housing is available for all the individuals and families in our communities around the world. That means protecting our homeowners and renters during this fraught time, and it means protecting the housing stock as quality, affordable shelter for people.”


About the Global Empty Homes Network (GEHN) partners


Action on Empty Homes is England’s leading campaign for empty homes to be brought into use for people in housing need. It raises awareness of the waste of long-term empty homes; campaigns for changes to national policy; supports local communities in transforming their neighbourhoods; provides advice for those seeking to bring empty homes back into use; and researches and develops ideas for bringing long-term empty homes back into use for those in housing need. https://www.actiononemptyhomes.org/           


Contact: [email protected]


The Local Initiatives Support Corporation, known as LISC, is one of the United States’ largest NGOs supporting projects and programs to revitalize communities and bring greater economic opportunity to residents. It invests in affordable housing, safer streets, growing businesses and programs that connect people with good jobs and financial opportunity. It provides the capital, strategy and know-how to local partners to get this done. Its work impacts the lives of millions of Americans in both rural and urban places across the country. https://lisc.org/our-initiatives/affordable-housing/housing-stabilization-fund/  


Contact: [email protected]


Prosper Australia advocates to shift the tax base off work and onto monopoly. For over a decade it has investigated vacancy via the analysis of abnormally low water consumption as a proxy for vacancy. It also advocates for rezoning windfall gains taxation, land value capture and rolling back the financialisation of land and housing. https://www.prosper.org.au/campaigns/end-vacancy/


Contact: [email protected]