More than 1,000 homes in Hackney lie empty, the latest government figures show – amid urgent warnings about the UK’s “mounting homelessness crisis”.
The borough had the second highest number of empty homes per square kilometre in 2016, according to BBC number-crunchers who have been poring over data from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
The news comes after a recent report by housing charity Shelter found Hackney had the tenth highest number of homeless people in the UK.
Shelter has launched an “urgent” appeal in response to what it describes as a “mounting homelessness crisis”, calling on the public to support its frontline advisers.
Hackney has 55.05 empty homes per square kilometre, second only to Kensington and Chelsea, and a waiting list stretching to 13,000 households – with around 3,000 of those in temporary accommodation.
In 2011, there were more than 2,000 empty homes in the borough – double the number now. But that figure was cut by almost 50 per cent in 2012, and has remained largely the same ever since.
Asked what the Town Hall is doing to bring the number down, a spokesperson told the Citizen: “The council continues to actively work with landlords to return long-term empty homes back into use through informal encouragement, advice, financial assistance, a rent deposit scheme and a Private Sector Leasing initiative.
“This has brought 422 long-term empty homes into use since 2006, including 45 in the last financial year (2016/17).”
Councils have the power to charge an additional 50 per cent council tax premium on properties that are empty for more than two years.
They can also issue Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) to temporarily take ownership of a long-term empty home in order to rent it out.
But the Town Hall spokesperson said: “We have not used any EDMOs as these are inefficient, resource intensive and financially risky.
“We will continue to focus on more effective ways of bringing empty properties back into use, with EDMOs available as an option to the council if needed.”
Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee’s Inquiry into Homeless Households on 27 November, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “We shouldn’t be proud that we’re having to open new hostels, but to respond to the pressures we’re facing we are. Rather than investing in that quick fix we need a new development of social housing.”
The council says its own housebuilding programmes will deliver nearly 4,000 homes over the next few years – with more than half for social rent and shared ownership – but that government restrictions mean it cannot borrow money against future rents to expand its work to meet demand.
Glanville told the Committee, chaired by Hackney South MP Meg Hillier, that “the only response is to invest in new social housing and reform in the private rented sector – anything else is just a sticking plaster on this crisis”.
He added: “If we could build 2,000 homes we could save £100million in temporary accommodation costs. We’re ready to go now if we have those freedoms to build.”
In a recent response to Shelter’s report, Far from alone: Homelessness in Britain in 2017, Hackney’s housing needs chief Cllr Rebecca Rennison said: “In Hackney we are already doing what we can – bringing hundreds of empty homes back into use, delivering one of the biggest programmes of council house building in the country, and taking action to support the borough’s 32,000 private tenants through our #BetterRenting campaign.”