Socialist Worker

Protests highlight the scandal of empty housing

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2751

A protest in Southwark

A protest in Southwark (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Housing campaigners took part in a day of action over empty homes last Saturday.

Campaign groups Action on Empty Homes and Homes for All staged protests outside new developments with no social housing, cleared council homes and long-term empty properties.

There were protests in Southwark, Newham, Islington and Haringey in London, as well as Milton Keynes and Harlow.

The day included a live stream of the protests and talks from activists in the Unite union, Streets Kitchen, Disabled People Against Cuts and Shelter.

Miriam Scharf from east London People Before Profit said, “This action is necessary in Newham. There are 30,000 on the council waiting list.

“Yet the Hallsville Quarter with 47 so-called ‘affordable homes’ out of 670 units shows a callous disregard for Newham residents.

Homes For All campaign organises
Homes For All campaign organises
  Read More

“Meanwhile private developers continue to build massive blocks like those at Brunel Street Works.”

Prison

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a protest ­at the ­Pentonville Prison site in Islington where properties are being sold by the Ministry of Justice to private developers.

Tyrone from Shelter explained to the rally that the number of ­homeless people living in temporary accommodation has increased by 83 percent in the last ten years.

Yet, he added, “Social homes have been sold off much faster than they’ve been built. This makes the need to repurpose empty homes even more desperate.”

In 2020 there were 268,178 ­long-term empty homes and 262,782 second-homes without any permanent residents and around 120,000 Airbnb type short-lets.

Will McMahon, the director of Action on Empty Homes, told Socialist Worker, “There is a huge amount of overcrowding. Poor accommodation impacts health, education and employment.”

He said that the crux of the problem is “corporate and wealth ­investment in metropolitan areas”.

“Houses and flat prices are going up but they’re totally unaffordable for people,” he said. “Houses are not being built for people to live in.

“Developers don’t have to have anyone living in them, they can just sit and watch the value go up.”

Will argued the housing market isn’t broken, but “working for people with loads of money as it’s meant to.”

“Build council housing houses for working class people must have affordable rent prices.”

Pressure

Sam Burgum, a researcher into requisitioning and squatters’ movements, added, “It’s pressure from below that opens up empty ­buildings.

“Local authorities have no problem using their requisitioning powers when kicking out social housing tenants, but are hesitant when talking about unused properties.

“Highlighting empty buildings puts pressure on owners—and squatting helps put it into use.”Will added, “This has to be a national campaign.”

Activists are now planning for a similar day of action in October.

Watch the online rally at bit.ly/EmptyHomesRally

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