Nottingham’s shortage of housing is well known. In 2018 the Council received 4,800 requests for housing, 1,300 of which were still open in late 2019 leaving a total of 9,000 people on the waiting list. As Nottingham’s leading providers of property cover – everything from home and landlord insurance to more specialist areas such as for student rental property cover and unoccupied property insurance – we are well aware of the crisis.
The problem, alas, is a common one in UK cities; a lack of social housing provision over many years and fast rising rents. In Nottingham’s case the situation has been made worse by the city becoming a victim of its own success. Over the past couple of decades, the local economy has thrived – particularly in the digital and creative sectors – and this has attracted large numbers of young people for whom getting on the property ladder is an as-yet unfulfillable aspiration.
Following the COVID-19 crisis with the model of remote working having been proved popular with staff and cost-effective for businesses, there’s talk of a further influx of people. Having suddenly been gifted the freedom to work for who you like, from where you like, many are set to leave London’s sky-high living costs for the relative affordability of cities like ours. Welcome as these fresh talents are, there is a danger that an already bad housing situation could be made worse. This is a concern that was given added impetus last week when a report from the leading estate agents Strutt and Parker for the homeless charity Shelter noted that the coronavirus crisis could badly affect new home building. The authors stated that as many as 300,000 planned new homes may be left unbuilt and that new social housing could fall to the lowest level since World War Two.
While a shortage of supply will suit existing landlords and homeowners in the short-term, the long-term effects can be damaging to all property owners. As London businesses, local authorities and health trusts will attest, finding and retaining keyworkers where property is unaffordable is a constant battle, and if the recent crisis has taught us anything its that keyworkers are worth their weight in gold.
So, what’s to be done? Well in this latest blog from Coversure Nottingham our Managing Director Paul Hartle looks at three very different ways of solving the crisis, ones that could ensure a bright future for our all in our city.
Occupy Unoccupied Properties
Having somewhere to lay your head at night is a given for most of us and many believe that shelter is a basic human right. That Nottingham has over 1,000 people either in temporary accommodation or sleeping on the streets is a sad indictment of our times. What makes it all the more shocking, however, is that there is no reason for it to be this way as government figures show that there were over 4,000 empty properties in Nottingham at the end of 2019, a 10% rise on 2017.
So, what can be done? The Council is doing what it can through its ‘Empty Homes’ programme which aims to bring 700 of these properties back into use, but that is only a small fraction of the available housing stock. The problem is that the vast majority of these properties are privately owned. With well over 1,000 of them have been vacant for 6 months or more, many are falling into disrepair, are a target for vandals and doubtless don’t have unoccupied property insurance cover so when something does go wrong, there is no one to help pick up the pieces.
It’s hard for most homeowners to imagine why someone would let a property fall into a state of unoccupied abandonment. Leaving aside the moral arguments, for most of us our home is our greatest asset and looking after it is just common sense. But if these reasons aren’t compelling enough then Nottingham may want to follow Birmingham’s lead. As of the 1st of April 2020, the Council will levy a 200% council tax premium on houses that are left unoccupied for 5 years or more, this in on top of the 100% premium that can be charged for those left vacant for 2 years or more. This could provide both an incentive to get owners occupying and provide funds for the Council to lease the property or purchase it outright. To some it may sound radical, Draconian even, but when so many people need shelter radical actions are warranted if you ask me.
Home Offices, Office Homes
Another route to solving the problem is to change buildings use. One of the side-effects of lockdown has been the realisation by employers and employees that remote working can work for all. While the number of people in the UK who work from home has grown steadily since the year 2000, with an estimated 30% of the workforce doing so at least sometimes by 2019, it’s now become mainstream and many believe the whole office-based way of working is a thing of the past. Earlier this year Twitter told their employees they never need to come into the office again – a decision that many other tech and creative organisations have followed. Given Nottingham has such a vibrant digital and creative industry scene, this surely could be something that could happen here.
This, of course, asks the question of what to do with offices that were formerly homes to these businesses. The obvious thing would be to turn them into homes. Drastic as this suggestion would have sounded even six months ago it’s something that is already happening. In Chesterfield a long-vacant office block, Burlington House in Burlington Street, is having its upper floors converted into 40 flats and here in Nottingham the offices at 1, First Avenue off Sherwood Rise is undergoing a similar transformation. In addition to these ingenious changes of usage there are plans to demolish commercial properties and replace them with housing. A great example of this is the razing of the former Royal Mail building, the Bendigo Building in Bath Street, to make way for apartments. To my mind this is an excellent way to create living space while removing a blight from the city’s landscape.
Build, Build, Build!
There’s a £2bn construction boom happening in and around Nottingham, but with much of that being focused on retail and commercial properties – a decision that may need a rethink post-COVID – there’s still a definite need for new affordable housing. Nottingham is blessed with plenty of brown field sites that are ripe for use as building sites and with new, more flexible planning laws having been outlined by the government last month, getting things moving should be easier for developers. There’s also to be a big push of government building. As Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said, “Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus”. They have also pledged more than £330 billion of loans and guarantees to help construction firms to continue operating. This combined set of actions should help ease the current crisis.
Nottingham: A Welcome Home For All
Nottingham’s housing crisis has gone on for far too long, has blighted too many lives and has the potential to do serious damage to the local economy. The changes that the COVID outbreak has brought in terms of changes in thinking needs to lead to action and quick action at that. We have an opportunity to take radical steps, to solve the crisis once and for all and to make Nottingham a welcome home for all. I for one hope that we can seize this opportunity and so look forward to an even brighter future.