By Isabel Ringrose
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Housing campaigners demand action on empty homes

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Issue 2751
Homelessness and social housing waiting lists are rising
Homelessness and social housing waiting lists are rising (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Housing campaigners are gearing up for a day of action over empty homes on Saturday.

The number of empty homes is rising while homelessness, social housing waiting lists and people stuck in temporary accommodation rocket.

In 2020 there were 268,178 long-term empty homes and 262,782 second-homes without any permanent residents. There are around 120,000 Airbnb type short-lets—with an estimated 80,000 in London alone.

The Action on Empty Homes and Homes for All campaign groups will stage protests. They will take place outside new developments that do not contain any social housing, cleared council homes and residential properties that are long-term empty.

Will McMahon is the director of Action on Empty Homes. “During the pandemic a lot of people needed to isolate,” he explained. “All the empty properties out there could’ve been used.

“We also have a health emergency. There is a huge amount of overcrowding. Poor accommodation impacts heath, education and employment.”

Will said that the crux of the problem is “corporates and wealth investment in metropolitan areas”. “Houses and flat prices are going up but they’re totally unaffordable for people,” he said. “Wealth investment is creating a crisis of affordability.

“Houses are not being built for people to live in—they’re investment property. Developers don’t have to have anyone living in them, they can just sit and watch the value go up.”

Councils rely on developers to help them hit building targets, and include a percentage of social rented housing and so-called “affordable” rents in new blocks. “Local authorities have no money to invest following the attack on the budgets of local governments in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Will. “So developers set the terms.

“They’ve stopped building council houses and the way the market is structured is a systematic attack on affordable housing.”


Will argued the housing market isn’t broken, but “working for people with loads of money as it’s meant to”. “The housing crisis is one for the poor,” he explained. “The poor have a housing crisis because the wealthy invest for people with wealth.

“We have to challenge ideas about how the housing market works. Build council housing houses for working class people at affordable rent prices.”

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Sam Burgum, a researcher into requisitioning and squatters’ movements, backs the day of action. “It’s pressure from below that opens up empty buildings,” he said. “Squatters in the past have sought to develop housing into something viable.

“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.

“It’s a combination of requisitioning from below and calling upon councils to use their powers for good and not their own benefit.”

Will hopes the day of action will help build a mass campaign across Britain. “It’s a big issue,” he added. “Every local area has long term empty homes, second homes or AirBnB accommodation. “This has to be a national campaign.

“We need a government that does the right thing and invests money to refurbish empty homes.”

For more information about the day of action of Saturday 17 April go to

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