“If people hoarded food the way they hoard homes, hungry people would riot. No wonder proposals to help councils requisition empty properties are popular.
This week the Guardian revealed the names of some of owners of the 1,652 empty properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea , after the names, addresses and council tax details were accidentally sent in response to a freedom of information request.
Some familiar names crop up – the Candys, of course, via an offshore company; former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg; and a string of sheikhs and oligarchs. As of 2016, there were 2,753 households on the council’s waiting list.
For some, the link between empty homes and homelessness is moot: the two are unrelated and no links and correlations should be drawn between them. This misunderstands the reason homes are left empty. Most people buy homes to live in, with good reason; the chances are that your home, rented or bought, is what you will spend the most money on in your lifetime.
Most people don’t have the capital sloshing around to buy two homes, let alone one to leave empty. So to buy homes to leave empty is to treat them as money-making machines; the wealthy increasingly view housing as a liquid investment, due to its low volatility. This may change slightly, though not substantially, with warnings that the top end of the market is tailing off.
But it also changes how we view housing as a nation. After the Grenfell Tower fire, when scores of families were left homeless, and still remain in hotel accommodation, the idea floated by Jeremy Corbyn that we might requisition empty homes to temporarily house survivors was met with shrieking from the commentariat and political classes alike. The idea, they said, was ludicrous, communist and made a mockery of property rights. As it happened, the public disagreed: 59% of those polled by YouGov agreed with Corbyn’s proposal and only half as many opposed it.
The requisitioning argument, and revelations on empty homes in Kensington, reveals the battle lines being drawn on housing in the UK. What matters more, our human right to shelter, or people’s right to use property as equity?
Treating housing as an asset is not benign. Hoarding homes pushes prices up, and encourages market supply to boost what is most profitable – luxury flats that can be left empty and flogged when the market is booming, not family homes that can be bought on a modest income. And when land values soar as a result of a keen market interest in buying up property, unscrupulous local authorities eye up the land social housing is built on, and consider whether turfing out council tenants to make a quick buck on the ground homes stand on is worth a punt.
The public seems to be accepting the idea that a right to shelter should trump a right to profiteering: the histrionic claims that requisitioning empty homes will lead to families being turfed out of their properties reveals there is no proper argument to be made for letting homes lie empty while people sleep on the streets.
We accepted homelessness while the rich left houses empty. No more
No one will be kicked out of a home they live in, but consistently allowing people to hoard an asset that is in short supply has no ethical argument behind it. If people hoarded food the way they hoard homes, hungry people would riot. The outcry over the revelations of these empty homes and support for Corbyn’s proposal to boost powers for councils to requisition empty properties, shows the public is in agreement.”