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England’s Social Housing Time Bomb



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Research carried out by the National Housing Federation for ITV has shown that 1 in 10 people could be on the social housing waiting list by 2020.  Significantly, this is the deadline by which Gordon Brown promised to deliver three million new homes.  In a country currently gripped by a financial crisis, 4.5 million people are currently on social housing waiting lists.  However, according to this latest research, the situation is set to markedly deteriorate over the next decade due to factors such as repossession, immigration and an often inaccessible mortgage market.


To deliver the promised three million homes by 2020, the government would have to average 200,000 new home builds per year.  This is already behind schedule with only 135,000 houses built in 2008/09 and the situation is expected to get even worse with an 88-year low of just 70,000 new homes expected to be delivered in the 2009/10 period.  To get back on target, building would have to increase by 400% in 2010/11 with 280,000 homes being built every year until 2020 to reach the pledged three million.  But if current house building trends continue, over 6.5 million, or one in ten of the population are expected to be on a social housing list by 2020.  This would represent an increase of 2 million since the Prime Minister announced the target.


However, it gets worse.  Research shows that around 223,000 additional households are formed every year.  Therefore, if the three million new homes target is reached by 2020, it will only be enough to house the 2.6 million new households that have formed since Gordon Brown’s original announcement – leaving just as many households in need of a place to live as before.  The National Housing Federation also stated that the number of people living in overcrowded homes in England will soar by 15% in the next two years to 2.6 million.


One Million Empty Homes


Perhaps the biggest crime is the fact that there are an estimated one million homes currently sitting empty in a country so desperately in need of more housing.  The figure comes from a charity, the Empty Homes Agency, and is UK wide; of this figure an estimated 762,635 are in England.  This figure represents almost four years of new home building at the governments target rate.  Why bulldoze more Greenfield sites to make way for new homes when it would be much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to refurbish these properties or at least reuse the sites?


The number of empty homes has made its biggest annual jump for over 20 years as the recession bites – up by around 24,000 in England, according to the charity.  Some of the properties are empty because of repossessions, others were purchased by property developers who ran out of cash, but because of the long time lags of housing market data, the figure may well get worse before it gets better.  What are the government doing about this?  According to a spokesman from Communities and Local Government, the powers of local authorities have been strengthened to include Empty Dwelling Management Orders as well as compulsory purchase and enforced sales.