11 November 2009

Urban Decline: Empty Homes

Following my previous post Urban Abandonment: Not Just Detroit which looked at urban decline in terms of depopulation, I now want to think in terms of abandoned housing. There is a lot more data for this metric, which helps!

Just last month Barbara Follet, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was asked how many empty dwellings there were in England:

Ownership 2006 2007 2008
Local authority 42,870 40,960 36,940
Registered social landlords 30,170 30,770 29,240
Privately owned 675,120 691,590 717,840

David Ireland of the Empty Homes Agency notes that this overall rise of 3% suggests that 970,000 homes are empty across the UK as of March 2008, suggesting the million mark has probably been crossed by now if this trend has continued. Given total housing stock of about 24 million properties in the England and Wales, and 1 in 12 people this is a substantial problem.

In London an estimated 80,000 homes stand empty, with councils employing a wide range of grants and housing association take-overs to reduce this figure.

But so far these are only abandoned houses, not abandoned cities as we are seeing in the US. Without concentrations of vacancies in specific towns and districts, we cannot call this the same problem at all. The Empty Homes Agency, however, report that 937,000 homes or a city twice the size of Birmingham is located in areas of low demand for housing. They report that:

The Sustainable Communities Plan, published on 5th February 2003, provides the Government framework for a major programme of action that will, over the next 15-20 years, tackle the pressing problems of communities across England. One of the key areas forming the basis for the action programme is the tackling of low housing demand and housing abandonment: sustained action to turn round areas where housing markets have failed. Over the next three years, £500 million is being made available for some of the worst affected areas, known as Pathfinder market renewal areas, with the intention of reversing low demand by 2010.

There are nine Housing Market Renewal (HMR) Pathfinder areas:

Birmingham and Sandwell
East Lancashire
Humberside
Manchester and Salford
Merseyside
Newcastle and Gateshead
North Staffordshire
Oldham and Rochdale
South Yorkshire

Other non-Pathfinder low demand areas include the Tees Valley and West Yorkshire, both of which should be getting additional support from the ODPM.

Questions to follow up include:

- What does Pathfinder involvement mean?
- Is it working?
- Many councils have Empty Homes Strategies that look good on paper. What have they actually done and achieved?
- Demolitions: where? To what extent? Local reactions.
- Socio-economic impact of current vacancies (perhaps a gap in the current discourse, which is fixated by solutions).
- National pattern of low housing demand, especially North vs. South: are some areas unlikely to be able to gain more residents, leading to a need for managed decline?
- Lessons from (or for?) the US

Links to follow up:
- Ipsos MORI surveys (c.2006) on scale and reasons for unoccupied homes
- Self-Help-Housing.Org for community-driven solutions and uses for empty dwellings
- Empty homes statistics by region since 1999
- Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on housing estates' improvements making them more popular with residents
- LSE CASE research on 'Low demand and abandoned housing in the north', some published in conjunction with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

1 comment:

oedipamaas49 said...

My question is: where are the homesteaders? A couple of centuries ago if you were a strange religious movement, or a cult, or a social group, or a commune -- you'd get to America and build a new life.

Likewise there must be many groups of weirdos heading off to an abandoned district of Manchester, or even to the rusting industrial cities of the former Soviet bloc, and establishing odd little societies there. It makes economic sense, and there must be people to whom it would appeal. So where are they?