Opponents of “urban sprawl” and “Greenfield development” propose a number of ruses for increasing London’s housing stock without building on previously undeveloped land – indeed, sometimes without building at all. One favourite is the “empty houses” myth. According to its advocates, huge numbers of houses are currently lying empty, just waiting to house the homeless.
For example, The Guardian … estimate that “more than 450,000 properties have been empty for at least six months… 25% higher than previously thought… enough to put a roof over the heads of a quarter of the families on council house waiting lists”.
But even if one ignores the absurdity of implying that every one of these properties can be brought into use, leaving no home in Britain unoccupied for more than six months, this apparently impressive number of empty homes is dwarfed by the demand for housing. Shelter England claim that there are 5 million people waiting on housing registers.
In London, 30,526 properties had been empty for six months or more as of August 2011, just 1 per cent of London’s total housing stock of 3.3 million. Yet the Mayor of London estimates that London needs at least 32,500 new homes every year for the next 20-25 years if it is to meet current and future demand. Empty housing simply cannot fill the gap.