The number of empty homes in Croydon increased by almost 50 per cent in the first four years that Alison Butler was the cabinet member for housing in the borough.
The numbers show that Croydon has more empty homes than all but one other borough in London.
According to the government data, the number of empty homes in Croydon in 2015 stood at 1,022. By 2018, that figure had risen to 1,521.
Croydon Council says that it has 5,000 households on its housing waiting list.
The latest empty homes figures, for 2019, show 1,340 vacant residential properties in Croydon, the first decrease in that stat since Labour took charge of the Town Hall in 2014.
Only Southwark, with 1,469 empty homes, has more.
Croydon’s neighbouring boroughs all have significantly fewer unoccupied homes: Sutton 756 (up from 551 in 2015); Bromley 554 (696 in 2015); Merton 611 (510 four years earlier); and Lambeth 868 (down from 1,142 in 2015).
Of course, many of the empty properties will be in private ownership, and some may be deliberately left vacant, often as investment vehicles, with the owners relying on house prices in the capital rising in order to make their returns.
Others, particularly many of the office-to-resi conversions which were done under the Tory policy of permitted development, may simply stand empty, unsold, the prices set too high for local families. Since blocking any further permitted developments in the town centre in 2015, much of this will be beyond the control of the local authority.
And Butler, the deputy leader of the council, has spoken recently of how the council has decided to buy up some empty properties, in order to use them to provide homes.
But the disparity between the “housing crisis” rhetoric coming out of the council to justify £260million of borrowing for Brick by Brick to concrete over the borough’s open spaces and parks, and the rapidly rising number of vacant properties in the borough, should require urgent explanation.
Across the capital, almost 25,000 homes are left unoccupied, while at the same time nearly 57,000 families are having to rely on temporary accommodation.
At today’s Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall, Tom Copley will ask Sadiq Khan what is driving the increase in empty homes. The boroughs “desperately need a helping hand from the government”, according to Copley, the Labour Assembly Member and his party’s spokesperson at City Hall on housing.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show that, by October 2019, there were 24,677 empty homes across London.
London’s empty homes scandal
Mayor Khan has called for a rise in Council Tax premiums targeted at vacant homes and by using his powers to clamp down on “buy to leave” property investments.
Local authorities such as Croydon possess some powers to tackle the number of long-term vacant properties, including the ability to charge Council Tax premiums, implement Compulsory Purchase Orders and enact Empty Dwelling Management Orders. Yet the volume of vacant properties continues to rise, as the table shows.
A 2019 report from Action on Empty Homes made a number of recommendations of how local authorities could be better supported by the government. The report advocates that the government re-establishes dedicated funding programmes to reinforce the efforts of local authorities to create affordable housing from long-term vacant properties.
Action on Empty Homes has also called for the government to adopt a national investment programme, open to community-led organisations, that addresses the underlying causes of high levels of empty homes in the worst-affected areas. Between 2012 and 2015, the government allocated £156million aimed at bringing empty homes back into use. This was also boosted by an addition £60million as part of the Clusters of Empty Homes Programme. However, after 2015, the government stopped investment streams specifically targeted at supporting these schemes.
Khan is not the first Mayor of London to call for a law change in this area. In 2014, Boris Johnson wanted the government to empower local authorities to implement a tenfold rise in Council Tax charges on properties left empty for a year or more.
From April, the government is allowing councils to charge a premium on Council Tax of up to 200 per cent, but only for homes left empty for longer than five years.
“With so many thousands of families being forced to languish in often insecure and unsuitable temporary accommodation, it is unacceptable for homes to lie empty and unused,” Copley said.
“While bringing empty homes into use won’t solve the housing crisis by itself, it’s in everyone’s interests to clamp down on this entirely needless waste and injustice. But if we are to make any significant progress, local authorities whose budgets have been recklessly slashed over a decade of austerity, desperately need a helping hand from Central Government.
“As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson was vocal in his support of much stronger measures to get to grips with this issue. Now he must restore government funding and devolve much greater powers to local authorities specifically aimed at targeting empty homes.”
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