Scandal of Europe’s 11m empty homes


There are more than 700,000 vacant homes in the UK, something
housing campaigners say is a shocking waste. Photograph: Martin Godwin

More than 11m homes lie empty across Europe– enough to house all of the
continent’s homeless twice over – according to figures collated by the Guardian
from across the EU.
In Spain more than 3.4m homes lie vacant, in
excess of 2m homes are empty in each of France and Italy, 1.8m in Germany and
more than 700,000 in the UK.
There are also a large numbers of vacant homes in Ireland,
Greece, Portugal and several other countries, according to information collated
by the Guardian.
Many of the homes are in vast holiday resorts built in the
feverish housing boom in the run up to the 2007-08
financial crisis – and have never been occupied.
On top of the 11m empty homes – many of which were bought
as investments by people who never intended to live in them – hundreds of
thousands of half-built homes have been bulldozed in an attempt to shore up the
prices of existing properties.
Housing campaigners said the “incredible number”
of homes lying empty while millions of poor people were crying out for shelter
was a “shocking waste”.
“It’s incredible. It’s a massive number,” said
David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes charity, which campaigns for vacant homes to be made
available for those who need housing. “It will be shocking to ordinary
“Homes are built for people to live in, if they’re
not being lived in then something has gone seriously wrong with the housing
Ireland said policymakers urgently needed to tackle the
issue of wealthy buyers using houses as “investment vehicles” – not
He said Europe’s 11m empty homes might not be in the right
places “but there is enough [vacant housing] to meet the problem of homelessness“.
There are 4.1 million homeless across Europe, according to the European Union.
Freek Spinnewijn, director of
FEANTSA, an umbrella organisation of homelessness bodies across Europe, said it
was a scandal that so many homes have been allowed to lie empty. “You
would only need half of them to end homelessness,” he said.
should do as much as possible to put empty homes on the market. The problem of
homelessness is getting worse across the whole of the European Union. The best
way to resolve it is to put empty homes on the market.”
month MEPs passed a resolution demanding the European Commission “develop
an EU homelessness strategy without any further delay”, which was passed
349 votes to 45.
Smart, director of policy at the UK Chartered Institute of Housing, said many
of the empty homes were likely to have fallen into disrepair or be
indeprived regions lacking jobs, but others could be easily brought back
to the market.
said a growing problem was rich investors “buying to leave” and
hoping to profit from rising property prices. The prices of prime London
property – defined as homes that cost more than £1,000 per sq ft – are now 27%
above their 2007 peak, according to estate agent Savills.
month a Guardian investigation revealed
that a third of the mansions on the most expensive stretch of London’s
“Billionaires Row” are empty
, including some that have
fallen into ruin after standing vacant for a quarter of a century.

Link to video:
Inside the derelict mansions of London’s ‘Billionaires Row’

Smart said there was growing evidence
of the practice in “rich parts of London, other areas of the country …
probably all over Europe”.
of Europe’s empty homes are in Spain, which saw the biggest construction boom
in the mid-2000s fed largely by Britons and Germans buying homes in the sun.
The latest Spanish census, published last year, indicated that more than 3.4m
homes – 14% of all properties – were vacant. The number of empty homes has
risen by more than 10% in the past decade.
Spanish government estimates that an additional 500,000 part-built homes have
been abandoned by construction companies across the country. During the housing
boom, which saw prices rise by 44% between 2004-08, Spanish builders knocked up
new homes at a rate of more than 800,000 a year.
some resorts more than a third of homes are still empty five years after the
peak of the financial crisis.
Spanish census suggests that more than 7,000 of the 20,000 homes in
Torre-Pacheco, a holiday region between Murcia and the coast are empty.
area has undergone a massive holiday home construction boom with several new
golf holiday resorts, including a 2,648-apartment complex called Polaris World,
which opened as the crisis struck.
Owners of apartments in the Polaris
World resort, which has a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, are struggling
to sell homes for half the €200,000 (£163,000) they paid before the crisis.
than 18% of homes in Galicia, on the north-west Spanish coast, and La Rioja,
near Pamplona, are vacant.
of the empty Spanish properties were repossessed by banks after owners
defaulted on mortgages.
José Aldanas of Spanish housing and homelessness association Provivienda said:
“Spain is suffering from high numbers of repossessions and evictions, so
we have reached a point where we have too many people without a home and many
homes without people.”
city councils in Catalonia have threatened banks with fines of up to €100,000
if homes they repossess remain empty for more than two years. The city council
of Terrassa, to the north of Barcelona, has reportedly written to banks holding
more than 5,000 homes demanding they take “all possible actions to find
tenants” or hand the homes over to the council to use for social housing.
France, the latest official figures from INSEE, the government research bureau,
show that 2.4m homes were empty in 2012, up from 2m in 2009.
will release figures for the number of empty properties in the country’s
census, published this summer. A survey by the Italian statistics institute
estimated there were 2.7m in 2011, and a 2012 report by the Cgil union
estimated 2m.
In the UK more than 700,000 homes are
empty, according to local authority data collated by the
Empty Homes campaign
. Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, the
UK’s biggest homelessness charity, said “homes shouldn’t stand empty”
and the government needed to come up with “bigger, bolder ideas” to
tackle the lack of available, affordable homes.
Portugal there are 735,000 vacant properties – a 35% increase since 2001 –
according to the 2011 census. An estimated 300,000 lie empty in Greece and
400,000 in Ireland.
Irish government has begun demolishing 40 housing estates built during the boom
but still empty. It is working out how to deal with a further 1,300 unfinished
developments, and Deutsche Bank has warned that it will take 43 years to fill
the oversupply of empty homes in Ireland at the current low population growth

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