UK: Empty Land, Empty Houses, Empty Right To Adequate Housing

The suburbs of a town in winter. In foreground, what is currently waste land, awaiting development.
The edge of town, where farmland goes to die and speculators (some) reap profits.

There is a major impediment to the United Nations Right to Adequate Housing. It is a common occurrence everywhere, and a familiar sight to a more mobile segment of the world’s population.

What does it look like? Take a ride through the ragged edges of any growing community and you can watch it slide past your windows: ’empty’ land.

It’s probably full of weeds, fenced off inadequately (what’s to steal?) and quite possibly includes the odd for sale sign. Perhaps an attractive line of mature trees grows along a long-abandoned fence line. Otherwise, it adds up to lot of nothing, with no current discernible purpose.

But a purpose is certainly to be found here, conveniently tucked out of sight. You are looking at the face of financialization: what was once farmland (and forest before that) is now converted into a financial asset. Land is bought and held by its current owner in hopes that, with any luck, it will one day be sold for a profit to some individual or community development scheme or another.

Some of this land often include a former dwelling(s), quite possibly run down and boarded up.

Now, turn away from the periphery and shift focus into the community itself. Financialized properties almost certainly exist here as well. As with rural land, urban and suburban housing parcels are regularly converted into an asset for sale at a profit.

But profits are not guaranteed. Many houses sit empty for months and years awaiting a sale that never happens. Meanwhile the housing is removed from use and a crisis brews over lack of housing.

These instruments of financialization and potential profit stand squarely in the path of the Right to Adequate Housing. Can anything be done to bring these back into use as housing? The answer is ‘yes.’

One example is Empty Homes Program in the England, which dedicated more than 200 million pounds to help local governments purchase and restore empty homes to their earlier use as housing. The program ran from 2010 to 2015 and was one of several that aimed to reduce the number of empty homes. In 2016 the number of empty homes stood at 240,000. Since then, the number of empty homes have been increasing. Is this a program worthy of revitalization, or adoption by other countries?

Read more on the current situation from the House Of Commons Library: Empty housing (England)