Easy problems should have easy solutions – shouldn’t they?
Problems like Walsall’s housing crisis, where we have a rudimentary numerical problem of too few homes for too many people… the answer is clearly to build more property in Walsall – but that, unfortunately for those desperately seeking to purchase or let a property, takes a lot of time and huge amounts of money. So what of other solutions?
Whilst at the first BBQ of the ‘summer’ with friends recently, the subject of property was mentioned, as it usually does when I’m around! During this particular conversation, someone mentioned empty properties as the solution to the problem. On the face of it, it seems so obvious. It got me thinking so, the next day; I did some research on this topic to see if this was a plausible potential solution. The results of which are very interesting indeed…!
The most recent set of figures from 2015 state there are 2,835 empty homes in the Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council area. So, it begs the question… why not put them back onto the system and help ease the Walsall housing crisis? Whilst they stand empty, 8,644 Walsall people– not households, people – are on the Waiting List for social housing. Surely, we can undoubtedly all agree that property left empty for years and years isn’t morally right with the burgeoning Waiting List, not to also mention the issue of homelessness.
But a different story emerges when you look deeper into the numbers. Of those 2,835 homes lying empty, only 1,148 properties were empty for more than six months. The local authority has to report a property being empty, even if it’s only for a week. So, many of the Walsall properties are either awaiting new homeowners or, in the case of rental properties, new tenants. Also most certainly, some properties are being refurbished and renovated, while others properties have homeowners who are anxious to sell but cannot find a buyer.
And this is where its gets even more interesting. Of the 1,148 long-term (over 6 months) vacant properties, 66 belong to the social housing sector. However, before we all go housing association/ council-bashing, anecdotal evidence suggests these empty houses are habitually in need of so much restoration that it’s not worth the while to do and are in areas of the region that even the registered providers find difficult to fill.
The fact is that the number of genuinely long term empty properties is only a tiny drop in the ocean of the 107,822 households in the area covered by Walsall Metropolitan Borough and, even if every one of those empty homes were filled with happy cheerful tenants tomorrow, it would only meet a small fraction of Walsall’s housing needs.
So what does this mean for all the homeowners and landlords of Walsall?
Well, it certainly shows that empty properties do not have a massive effect on the property shortage in Walsall. It also means that with demand being so high, especially for rental properties, the certainty of the rental market growing is inevitable because young people cannot buy and social landlords don’t have the money to build enough homes to meet demand. This in turn bolsters property prices as landlords continue to buy at the lower end of the market (starter homes, etc), which in turn sustains the rest of the market as those sellers move up the property ladder, releasing others in turn to buy on again.
These are interesting times in the Walsall property market!
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