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It doesn’t get much better than being part of an 80,000 crowd at the London Stadium on a beautiful May evening, listening to the poignant opening notes of “Gimme Shelter” ringing out under the darkening skies. 

That same week it was announced that Country Garden, a global property developer that specialises in so called “Meta City” projects had bought a site just down the road in Poplar where they will be building 788 housing units for £400m, due to be completed in 2021.

Small beer really bearing in mind that their previous project in Malaysia was for 700,000 units for £79 billion, but surely a sign of things to come for UK plc post Brexit.

Over the next couple of years it is anticipated that some 380,000 existing buy-to-let properties will become available as amateur and accidental landlords decide that it is just not cost effective to own such properties in their own names, particularly because of the Section 24 tax changes that by then will have begun to bite and they will decide to release capital.

This might be welcome news for first time buyers, but it will be less welcome for those vulnerable renters in such properties who — often with young families — will be given notice because many of those properties will undoubtedly be purchased by owner-occupiers with vacant possession, rather than as investment properties, which continue to be rented out. So what may benefit buyers might be to the detriment of those that cannot afford to buy and indeed cannot afford to rent at current market prices.

Chris Bailey, campaign manager at Empty Homes (the national campaigning charity) recently observed that any such structural changes to the property market (which at the current time is far from liquid) will have a devastating effect on England’s “left behind” communities, or as they should really be called the “under invested: “those who are actually isolated from the economic mainstream and whose life chances are accordingly damaged by being residents of such communities.”

Chris argues that active support is needed for such people and that this is best provided by organisations based in these communities and delivered alongside secure, good quality housing. Crirtically, this requires investment in these neighbourhoods, rather than regarding them as having some sort of peculiar inability to “catch up” with the economic mainstream, otherwise the under invested are simply going to slip further and further down the economic ladder.

So, what can we do about it?

One of my favourite quotes from Bill Shankly (whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I was 17 when working as a hotel porter) is: “The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”

Taking a broader view of the current travails in the property market, Simon Turton of Opera PR, argues that they are partly due to: “the rudderless Conservative administration whose indecision and lack of progress with Brexit negotiations is unnerving the markets and investors, domestic and international; the government must start to take control with the Brexit negotiations and set out a clear post-Brexit policy to help restore confidence in the economy.”

Perhaps a touch of Shankly’s acid humour should be added: “if you can’t make decisions in life you are a bloody menace. You’d be better becoming an MP.”

As I indicated in December 2016, there are a large number of perfectly sound empty properties in England that could, with the right support and expertise and a large amount of TLC and some funding, be brought into use to provide shelter — particularly for those young people (some 83,000) that are estimated by Action for Children’s Byte Night.to be homeless through no fault of their own.

Chris confirmed that there are currently a staggering 205,293 homes in England, which have been empty for over six months; the challenge for local authorities is that: “90% or more of these empty homes nationally are privately owned, so that remedial and enforcement action under the Empty Homes Management Order and similar legislation is potentially complex and slow.”

Watford FC is organising a series of events at Vicarage Road as part of the England World Cup campaign. With other members of One Silk Road’s Property Investment and Development Group, I will be hosting an informal event there to raising funds (by way of an informal world cup sweepstake) for both Empty Homes and Action for Children’s Byte Night 2018 (the head office of the latter charity is in Watford). 

To be fair, according to the latest government data, Watford is not an area that has particularly high incidence of empty homes, with just 0.77% of long term empty properties, Watford is below the national average of 0.86%.

That’s still 302 reported empty homes though and by my calculations if one property was brought back into use in year one, two in year two, four in year three, and so on, it would still take over 8 years to make such properties habitable for renting.

If you are interested in tackling this challenge you’d be welcome to come along – I am going to run through my “Watford Empty Homes 10 point Action Plan: A property lawyers perspective” at half time . Apart from a positive attitude all you’ll need to bring along is your wallet!

Details of the event will be in our June blog “The Business of Football” 

Tony Houghton