The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rent and property prices are unaffordable for an increasing number of families, and rates of homelessness are rising.
The London Borough of Enfield has been particularly hard hit and has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, as well as very high levels of overcrowding.
This is why the results of the 2021 census are so troubling. The census data shows that thousands of residential dwellings in Enfield are either vacant or are not used as primary or permanent homes.
We have looked at this in detail to try to understand what is happening in Enfield and are grateful to the Office of National Statistics for their assistance.
HOUSING STOCK INCREASED BUT THE NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLDS DECLINED
The total housing stock in Enfield increased by around 4% between 2011 and 2021, with at least 4,880 additional dwellings being built.
The number of additional dwellings with 1 or 2 bedrooms increased by 8% during this period i.e. by +4,070, which significantly exceeded Enfield’s target for these homes.
However, the census data shows that the number of households actually living in 1- or 2-bedroom properties in Enfield decreased by 4% between 2011 and 2021 i.e. fell by -2,394 households.
It is a surprising that despite an 8% increase in Enfield’s stock of 1–2-bedroom properties, the census is showing a 4% decrease in the number of households actually living in 1- or 2-bed properties over the same time period. It means that around 6,500 1–2-bedroom homes in Enfield are, in a manner of speaking, ‘missing’ and unaccounted for.
|(a) Number of additional 1- or 2-bedroom dwellings built 2011-2021||+4,070|
|(b) Change in households living in 1- or 2-bedroom dwellings 2011-2021||-2,349|
|Gap between potential increase in households and actual increase||-6,464|
VACANT INVESTMENT PROPERTIES AND MULTIPLE PROPERTY OWNERS
The conclusion is that at the time of the census, there were around 6,500 1–2-bedroom properties in Enfield that were vacant or not considered to be someone’s main home.
There could be different explanations for this. For example, at the time of the census these properties may have been vacant for one reason or another (e.g. empty investment properties) or rented as short term lets (e.g. Airbnb). Another explanation is that these 1- or 2-bed homes may be owned or rented by people whose main home is elsewhere, either within the UK or abroad.
The number of these ‘missing homes’ has increased by over 300% since the 2011 census.
A DYSFUNCTIONAL HOUSING MARKET
The findings strongly suggest that a large and increasing number of 1-2-bedroom properties in Enfield are either vacant or occupied by people who do not consider the property to be their main home.
Despite Enfield significantly exceeding their building targets for smaller properties, these are not translating into main homes for people. This is troubling because building 1000s of homes and exceeding housing targets has not resolved the housing crisis.
The results suggest that local people looking to rent or buy a home in Enfield have been priced out because they have had to compete with people and companies who have more money at their disposal. This competition pushes up property and rental prices beyond a level which many local people can realistically afford.
This implies that exceeding housing targets has benefitted property investors and multiple homeowners but has not helped those in most need of a home. Many local families are now further away than ever from being able to afford or rent or buy a decent home in Enfield. Inequality, deprivation, and homelessness are all increasing, despite building more homes than targets said were needed.
The findings show that building more homes and housing targets can realistically only ever be one part of the solution to addressing the housing crisis, because just building more homes – even when targets have been significantly exceeded – has not translated into more families being properly housed. The number of households living in 1–2-bedroom properties has declined and the housing crisis in Enfield has got significantly worse.
Policy interventions are urgently needed in boroughs such as Enfield, to restrict the number of new and existing residential properties from being bought as investments and left empty or used for short-term holiday lets or as additional homes.
Most importantly, these findings emphasise the importance of creating far more social rent housing and other types of genuinely affordable homes, because these are protected from acquisition by property speculators and those who can afford to buy multiple homes.
 *’additional dwellings’ is the number built after accounting or dwellings that were demolished.