Scandal of Europe's 11 Million Empty Homes

Categories: Homes / Dwellings

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.

This is happening not only in Europe The United States is suffering from the same situation, and numbers are higher, around 18,600,000 Homes are empty.

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 theEmpty Homes charity, which campaigns for vacant homes to be made available for those who need housing. "It will be shocking to ordinary people.

"Homes are built for people to live in, if they're not being lived in then something has gone seriously wrong with the housing market."

Ireland said policymakers urgently needed to tackle the issue of wealthy buyers using houses as "investment vehicles" – not homes.

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.

"Governments 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."

Last 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.

Gavin 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 in deprived regions lacking jobs, but others could be easily brought back to the market.

He 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.

Last 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.

Smart said there was growing evidence of the practice in "rich parts of London, other areas of the country … probably all over Europe".

Most 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.

The 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.

In some resorts more than a third of homes are still empty five years after the peak of the financial crisis.

The 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.

The 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.

Anti-eviction protesters in Madrid confront police as they try to stop the eviction of a disabled neighbour. Photograph: Juan Carlos Lucas/Demotix/Corbis
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