Requisition of empty properties: An alternative to the housing crisis in Birmingham
Birmingham is facing a housing crisis with 2% of the citizens considered as homeless. But Birmingham also has the highest number of empty properties in the UK with more than 5000 properties listed as empty.
Although the process of requisition may often be a bumpy ride, it can be a possible solution to the ongoing housing crisis.
What is requisition?
Land requisition, in the simplest terms, is a power that local councils and the government have to put a property back into use when it is left vacant.
According to Sam Burgum, a lecturer at Birmingham City University and a researcher of squatting, housing and urban movements, the powers of land requisition should be used in a way to put empty properties back into use.
“This power requires a recognition that the emptiness of a property is more damaging than taking the ownership of the property away from people. But at the moment, ownership is the most important thing for the people,” Sam mentioned.
Although this power is not used often in recent times, the authorities have exercised this right in times of crisis including during and after the second world war.
“After the second world war ended, there were protests in Brighton by the group called ‘vigilantes’ who took over an empty hotel and demanded the government to use requisitioning powers to solve the housing crisis. Winston Churchill then extended the law to peace time which also says it can be used in a crisis,” explained Sam.
Exercising this power was also brought forward by then labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to house the victims of the Grenfell fire. He said the government should requisition housing if necessary for those made homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire. But the proposal was later turned down.
How many empty properties are there?
Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) put the number of empty homes in England in October 2019 at 648,114.
This represents a 2.2% increase on the previous year’s total. Of the 225,845 of the total were classed as long-term empty properties (empty for longer than six months).
Accordingly, Birmingham has the highest rate of empty homes in the UK with 5,386 empty out of 450,512 houses.
Does empty properties affect local communities?
The latest report on empty housing published by the house of commons library recognised this issue as having a serious impact on the viability of communities.
“As the number of empty properties within an area increases, so can the incidence of vandalism, which acts as a further disincentive to occupation. This in turn can lead to falls in the levels of equity and the collapse of local businesses as households move out,” the report said.
The report also mentioned the benefits of a local authority strategy to deal with empty properties as meeting housing needs, improve housing conditions, and increase the council tax collection rate while saving on temporary accommodation expenditure.
What actions have been taken so far?
The charity ‘Action on Empty Homes’ had been helping in renovating and bringing back empty properties to use. They also focuses on research, development and working with local councils to test ideas in bringing long-term empty homes back into use for those in need of housing.
“We focus on bringing in landlords, local communities, and local authorities together in a way to address the rise in empty homes in the country,” said Ken Cheung, a board member of the charity.
The annual report for 2020 published by the charity recognised that local authorities embrace the idea of being able to achieve a broad spectrum of outcomes through bringing empty homes into use including provision of securing affordable housing.
“They (local authorities) begin to think in terms of investment rather than spend, and to recognise the significant returns that can be achieved. The value of community action was recognised, and local authorities understood that this could provide an alternative route to tackling empty homes and be a complementary approach to use of the statutory enforcement powers at their disposal,” the report said.
Can empty properties help solve the housing crisis?
Jean Templeton, chairperson of the WMCA homelessness task force argued about the impracticalities of the supply of empty houses being able to facilitate the needs and demands of the homeless.
“There might be old fashioned housing schemes which are empty, but which doesn’t suit the needs of the present generation. Right now we are short of family homes with many rooms for those in temporary accommodation.
It ultimately boils down to a question of resources both the authorities and charities have which are hard to get. If a project could be launched by pooling in resources and capital from authorities and charities, there would be a very positive outcome,” Jean explained.