'Council houses now': Protesters stage action over empty homes

campaigners hold banners

Campaigners gathered in Canning Town on Saturday (April 17) to raise awareness of empty homes. - Credit: Jon King

"Homes for all. Council houses now."

That was the cry from campaigners at a protest in Canning Town aimed at raising awareness of homes being left empty in spite of demand for housing.

A dozen people raised placards reading "take action on empty homes" opposite tower blocks in Silvertown Way on Saturday, April 17.

The action was organised by East London People Before Profit (ELPBP).

Miriam Scharf, a member of the campaign group, said: "If you look around, you can see flats going up at a rate of knots.

"Who are they for? They are not for the people of Newham. There are nearly 30,000 people on the council's housing waiting list.

"Our council would like to house [them]. There are a lot of obstacles in their way."

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Ms Scharf demanded more funding for local authorities to build social homes, secure tenancies and lower rents.

Campaigners say Covid-19 has highlighted the health impacts of temporary accommodation.

They argue overcrowding, empty homes, second homes and not enough social or genuinely affordable homes are worsening the national housing crisis. 

Niall Mulholland, who chairs Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC), described the number of vacant homes as a "massive scandal".

He called for the construction of council homes on a mass scale, warning of a tsunami of evictions when a government ban on landlords removing tenants ends.

L-R: Dáire Cumiskey, Rob Behan and Josh Largent at the protest

L-R: Dáire Cumiskey, Rob Behan and Josh Largent at the protest. - Credit: Jon King

Rob Behan, a member of the National Education Union, described he and his partner being thrown off a housing waiting list as a result of changes made possible by the Local Government Act 2014.

"All we've got is an insecure housing option in front of us. A huge amount of our salary is going to private rent," he said.

The teacher calculated that he has paid rent of about £100,000 in the past 10 years.

"People aren't being given a fair opportunity to live life in the fullest sense they would like to and not have to worry about that stress and struggle for housing," he said.

Ama Agyeman and Max Usher Smith

L-R: Ama Agyeman and Max Usher Smith support the protest. - Credit: Jon King

Government figures for England show there were more than 25,000 vacant dwellings reported by local authorities in 2020. This compares to 100,000 in 1989.

Focus E15 campaigners

Campaigners from the group Focus E15 also staged a protest in Stratford as part of the national day of action on empty homes. - Credit: Miriam Scharf

The protest was part of a day of action backed by Action on Empty Homes, The Big Issue, Defend Council Housing, Disabled People Against Cuts, Homes For All, SHAC, Street Storage, Streets Kitchen, and the Unite union.