The scandal of Camden’s empty homes

Pressure is mounting on Camden Council to tackle the “scandal” of empty homes as new figures reveal that more than 2,700 properties stand unused across the borough.

Among these are 752 council owned properties which are lying vacant – while the borough’s social housing waiting lists continue to climb to 18,000.

Edward Crask, a manager at The Camden Federation of Tenants and Residents, warned that while these properties languished vacant, social housing tenants were living in overcrowded and unsuitable homes.

He said: “Any empty home is a lost opportunity.

“People are really struggling to find homes that aren’t overcrowded. We have come across families living in one bed flats, children sharing beds and parents sleeping on living room floors.

“There are thousands of service workers on low wages and the city relies on the work they do, we shouldn’t shunt them out of Camden to find a home.

“This is a genuine housing crisis. I think the council is taking this seriously, but we want to see more action.”

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The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, come as national charities have urged councils to sell or let properties at a discounted rate to help reclaim empty homes.

A petition has been launched calling on the government to intervene, and Channel 4 has launched a season of television programmes investigating the housing crisis.

Paul Palmer, a consultant who works with councils to bring homes back into use, said the sheer scale of the crisis means that local authorities must be given a statutory obligation forcing them to bring empty homes back into use.

He said: “It is a scandal.

“Councils have the statutory powers to compulsory purchase homes and enforce sales, but there is no statutory duty which means most don’t do it.

“This duty is what is needed.”

Cllr Julian Fulbrook, Camden’s housing chief, said the actual number of private vacant properties could be higher than these figures suggest because many developers submit back to back planning application, deferring the date work is undertaken to bring homes into use.

He added: “We are in the process of rehabilitating some of our properties. At Holly Lodge in Highgate, these are technically empty properties, but there are building workers all over that site.”

But he said “unique personal circumstances” meant that some homes would be technically empty, but not in a state to be given out to other tenants.