Second homes are sitting empty

From: Phillip Oakley, London Road, St Leonards

I read with interest the article on Hastings homeless featured online on Friday, November 30.

The issues around homelessness and rough sleeping are complex.

Low incomes, high rents, worklessness, mental health issues, deposits, short term contracts and inconsiderate landlords are just some factors. There is no simple solution. But a shortage of capacity in the housing market must be the single greatest contributor to the problem and I have two points to make on this issue.

When there is such an obvious need for housing it seems nuts that Hastings Council are investing £3m, not on housing, but on a retail development in Bulverhythe.

The development will make a return of under one per cent according to the council when surely there is a greater need and prospect for a greater financial return on housing. Exactly why is our money being used to invest in the declining retail property market to facilitate an Aldi supermarket when what we really need is housing?

Secondly there is a much greater issue, the elephant in the room that politicians across all political persuasions ignore because it applies to many of them; second homes. The Observer reported a year ago that there were 292 people homeless in Hastings. Based on the UK average of 2.3 people per household that means around 130 additional properties are required. But how many people, couples or families in Hastings have second homes? How many properties remain empty for occasional enjoyment while other people are crammed into short term accommodation in often awful conditions?

According to the Resolution Foundation, 5.2m people, 1 in 10 adults, now have second homes, and this figure is rising. Many of these may be rented out but equally many couples will hold properties in their individual names and distort the true picture of second home ownership and its use.

What is clear is that in Hastings and St Leonards there are many, many properties which are second homes for occasional, often weekend use. Is it fair that some people, couples or families have two or more of a limited resource when others have none? Should we continue to build on green spaces to provide more homes when there is already enough housing stock available if people would limit themselves to one home?

I don’t claim to have the answer to what is a moral conundrum, but politicians discussing homelessness, the need to increase housing stock and to build on more green spaces without discussing second homes makes no sense to me. It’s an issue worthy of debate locally and nationally but I doubt the elephant will be out on the street any time soon.