Residents ‘heartbroken’ at borough with 4,500 empty homes while thousands more on housing wait list

Residents say they are “appalled” at new figures released this week show one South London borough has the highest number of empty homes in the whole capital.

Southwark currently has 4,580 empty homes, the most in London according to a Local Government Association commissioned report released this week. It comes as the housing wait list in the borough has soared to 16,000 people.

The borough has seen an increase of more than 700 empty homes since last year.

On one estate alone, the much maligned and mid-regenerated Aylesbury estate in Walworth, there are about 600 homes lying empty.

Aysen Dennis, 64, has recently moved to a new home within the wider regeneration of the estate in Bradenham Court. She lived in her home on the Aylesbury estate for more than 30 years and said it was “appalling” that so many homes were empty there.

Aysen Dennis, outside her new home in the wider regeneration of the Aylesbury estate (Picture: South London Press/Takenya Holness)

“It’s heartbreaking to know there are empty flats that are in good condition while thousands of people are on the waiting list,” she said.

“They need to change the policy instead of gentrifying the area – refurbishing and retrofitting the existing flats so that families can live there.

“The council are losing money with the flats empty but they don’t care. I’m so angry. Why are we voting for councillors to destroy our communities?

“All around it’s emptiness and managed decline.”

Ms Dennis said residents on the estate had asked the council for permission to fix the empty homes themselves so that families could move in but they were denied.

Laura Fudge, 65, another resident of Aylesbury estate of more than 40 years said it was “madness” there were so many empty homes.

Laura Fudge, 65, said there are homes for up to six people lying empty on the estate (Picture: Laura Fudge)

“Many of the empty homes on the estate are maisonettes with three, four, five, potentially even six or seven bedrooms,” she said. “It’s madness that in this current housing shortage these homes are not being used.  

“Southwark families are missing out and Southwark council are missing out on precious rent revenues.”

By definition, an empty home is one that has no permanent occupier or can be defined as a property where the main resident lives elsewhere. The LGA said its figures were taken from council tax data.

The LGA said every empty home removes a property from the housing market and with it the chance for those on housing registers to be housed, first time buyers to purchase, or those looking to progress on the property ladder.

The empty homes premium, introduced in 2013, allows councils to charge between 50 per cent to 300 per cent of the council tax on a property that has been empty for two years, the LGA recommends this be reduced to 12 months.

Jerry Flynn, from the Southwark-based housing campaign group 35% Campaign said: “It is wrong for so many council homes to stand empty when it’s reported that Southwark’s housing waiting list stands at over 16,000 households.  

“While most empty homes are in the private sector, the 600 plus homes on the Aylesbury are under Southwark’s direct control.  

“It’s doubly wrong for them to be empty or only used as temporary accommodation, when the future of the regeneration of the estate is so uncertain.   

“Southwark should acknowledge the situation and bring back these homes into proper use, as permanent secure homes for 600 families who desperately need them.”

Southwark councillor Helen Dennis, cabinet member for homes said: “The majority of council homes listed as ‘long-term empty’ in Southwark are in fact on our large-scale estate renewal sites where old, poorly built, housing at the end of its life is being replaced by modern council homes for our residents. 

“For example, we’ve built over 220 new council homes on the Aylesbury estate that are complete and being let to residents, with over 350 more new council homes underway. 

“Beyond big renewal sites, when it comes to the council’s own empty properties, we only have around one per cent of our available stock vacant and being made ready to re-let at any one time.”

Pictured top: The Aylesbury medical centre on the Aylesbury estate with the new housing developments to the left (Picture: South London Press/Takenya Holness)

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