“Ask most people about England’s epidemic of empty homes and they are likely to think of lavish vacant mansions in London owned by absent foreign billionaires.
In fact, the majority of empty properties are in post-industrial areas, where poverty rates are high and house prices languish well below their pre-crash levels. Such a place is Stockton-on-Tees, near Middlesbrough, where Martyn Jones lives.
Two years ago Jones, 23, was homeless and relying on friends to let him sleep on their couches while he struggled to find work. Today, he is painting a wall in a gutted home on a quiet street, part of a group tasked with refurbishing some of the area’s many vacant, derelict homes.
Last week, Theresa May pledged an extra £2bn for housing associations to fund large-scale developments. But with new house building not providing enough affordable homes for more than 1 million people on waiting lists in England, social enterprises and councils are trying to bring empty homes, which number well over 200,000 and are worth almost £50bn, back into occupancy.
Over 11,000 homes have stood empty for at least 10 years, data shows
One of them is Community Campus 87, which buys such properties in Stockton-on-Tees, refurbishes them and offers them to previously homeless tenants at rents below the going rate for social housing. In the process, it provides jobs and skills training for people such as Jones.
Having left school at 16, Jones struggled with substance use and anxiety, unable to hold down a job. When his mother kicked him out, he worried he was out of options. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Campus,” he says. “They gave me a home, helped me along the way and now I’ve started going to college.”
Amid a dramatic national collapse in apprenticeships, about 15% of Community Campus’ staff are apprentices, according to its director and founder, Simon Virth. The group, which has refurbished about 250 homes so far, also offers help with job interviews, jobcentre appointments and finding free educational programmes at local colleges.”