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Coronavirus: Use London’s empty homes to house frontline workers, says charity

PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:08 10 April 2020

A file image of an NHS nurse at a hospital. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

A file image of an NHS nurse at a hospital. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

The government has been urged to take advantage of more than 100,000 homes in the capital that could be lying empty to house frontline workers tackling coronavirus.

Centre Point in Tottenham Court Road, Camden. Redeveloped homes were taken off the market in October by developer Almacantar due to 'silly' offers from overseas investors. Picture: Matt Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0)Centre Point in Tottenham Court Road, Camden. Redeveloped homes were taken off the market in October by developer Almacantar due to 'silly' offers from overseas investors. Picture: Matt Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government data shows there are almost 25,000 homes that have been empty for six months in London, as well as 46,000 second homes – which people have been told not to use during the lockdown.

There are also some 50,000 whole home lets on Airbnb in London, many of which will be empty throughout the crisis.

Islington charity Action on Empty Homes is now calling on ministers to adopt a “three-point empty homes coronavirus action plan” to address the issue.

Director Will McMahon said: “In the coming weeks it is going to be essential that health and other essential workers have access to accommodation in close proximity to hospitals and workplaces.

“At present London is at the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis and many of these homes could be used to provide a quick solution to this problem.

“We are living at a time of national crisis and emergency measures, every person and company who has a housing resource that can help with the emergency should step forward now.”

Action on Empty Homes wants long-term empty homes and vacant second homes to be used for emergency accommodation for health workers and other key workers near their place of work. Those demands make up the first two points of the three-point plan. The final request is for laws to be introduced compelling Airbnb and other lettings platforms to share data on the location of whole home lets with councils, so they can place health workers in available properties near their workplace.

Mr McMahon added: “Councils should ask homeowners to volunteer their second or habitable long-term empty homes for use by essential workers. Airbnb should be compelled to share the data necessary to identify whole house lets close to hospitals. Companies that are no longer using staff flats should step forward and offer them for use.

“In a national crisis, where lives are at stake, we need everyone to be pulling in the same direction and ensuring that resources, including housing, are available for use where they are needed most.”

Last year this paper revealed the scale of the empty and second home crisis in London.

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