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In the week that Jeremy Hunt announced his campaign aspiration to build 1.5 million additional low cost houses for young people over the next 10 years, Mike Frisby of Mike Frisby Wealth Creation hosted a Co-Living Super Conference with a panel of well regarded co-living industry “pioneers”, attended by over 150 people.

Members of the audience would have perhaps been rather sceptical of Mr Hunt’s ambitions, particularly when you take into account the government’s own report — Housing Supply: Net Additional Dwellings, England 2017–2018 — compiled by Neil Higgins.

The report is accepted as the most comprehensive on this subject and includes the overall number of net additional dwellings (including new builds, change-of-use from commercial to residential and other conversions and gains; it also includes permitted development). In the period 2017-2018 the net figure was 222,190 additional dwellings – the highest figure since 1991 (except for 2007-08) and up 2% from the previous year.

Whether or not we do leave the EU on Hallowe’en 2019, there is going to be a flurry of activity in October, including an updated report Net Additional Dwellings figures for 2018 to 2019.

There will be the publication of the government’s enquiry findings to “re-invigorate” (ie start) the concept of Commonhold legal ownership (which has been available since 2004 but has not lived up to expectations partly it has to be said from a complete lack of enthusiasm on behalf of the conveyancing profession).

We should also hear the findings of the in-house enquiry undertaken by an eminent QC at the request of Persimmon (the UK’s biggest housebuilder) into whether lessons can be learnt from its involvement in the government’s “Help to Buy” initiative.

And, I will be supporting the 2019 “Byte Night” initiative hosted by Action for Children to raise funds for the young homeless whose numbers continue to rise inexorably.

Finally, we are also expecting the Lib Dems’ report on the latest figures for the number of empty homes that have been unoccupied for at least six months across the 276 local councils in England and Wales.
You may recall that in 2018 Vince Cable drew attention to the fact that 216,000 properties across the country have been empty for six months or more, with 60,000 having been empty for two years or more; 23,000 for five years or more and over 11,000 having stood empty for at least ten years.

Mr Cable also pointed out that: “Just one in thirteen councils made use of the Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO), powers used by local authorities to take over properties that have been empty for at least 6 months. Only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded had used an EDMO in the past five years and only six had used one in the past year”.

In total, local councils have brought 23,000 empty houses back into use without the enforcement powers of EDMO, but as Mr Cable added, when he stated that the “young uninvested” — some of the “most vulnerable people in our society” — would benefit if the remaining 180,0000 properties could be turned into affordable places to live.

The question for whoever is the next Housing Minister will of course be: how?

Over the last 20 years there have been 17 Housing Ministers, which by way of a quick fag packet calculation shows that their average period in office is less than most tenancy agreements. So, anyone charged with creating the “additional” homes to which Jeremy Hunt refers is going to have to make their mark quickly.

My recommendations to the next Housing Minister would be to:

Relax the current restrictions on Industrial Building Allowances to allow smaller local builders to be given incentives to work with their local authority to bring at least the 11,000 residential properties and “curtilages” that have stood empty for ten years back into use as quickly as possible.

Oblige national house builders to provide financial and other support to such “community” builders who are turning “empties” into local homes, under S106 planning conditions that should be imposed by local planning officers.

The autumn promises to be action-packed, but unless there is some co-ordination and creativity in this area (and remember half of the capital value of UK plc is accounted for by its property assets of £5 trillion) there is a real risk that for many “young underinvested” the wheels will truly fall off the bus no matter how well Bo-Jo has painted it.

For those who would like to listen to Mike Frisby’s views on Co -Living please click HERE.

Tony Houghton, July 2019

Caption: Mike Frisby, organiser of the Co-Living Super Conference