How technology could help solve London’s housing crisis

Guy Rochez
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Properties in areas such as Mayfair are being left empty for long period of time (Source: Getty)

With no end in sight for London’s housing crisis, London’s major landowners and councils need to think differently about how tenants can access and use space.

Technology is changing the way we consume products on a day-to-day basis, enabling individuals to share everything from cars to clothing on a temporary basis. So far this idea of temporary use has only been exploited in the property market through short-term holiday lettings.

AirBnB is undermining both the hotel and housing market with a technology-based format that directly connects supply and demand, bypassing a number of taxes and regulations along the way. But the principles behind AirBnB could be applied on a much bigger scale, with regulation, to allow otherwise underused or empty properties to be let out at affordable rates.

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Currently there are 83,000 homes sitting empty across London, 20,000 more than the 62,000 new homes built in the capital over the past three years. As we continue to build less than half the homes needed to house Londoners, and with prices rising as supply runs dry, the majority of Londoners are being outpriced.

Meanwhile, a number of potential homes sit underused. Mayoral candidate Tessa Jowell’s promise to introduce a levy on investors leaving properties empty, and city councils’ desire to regulate the activity of businesses like AirBnB, could potentially be combined to deliver a new kind of housing provision.

Aimed at the more vulnerable sections of London’s housing market, such as students and young workers, app-based access into properties on a temporary basis could provide housing at affordable rates while their owners are absent. This would create a means for property owners to avoid a levy on empty homes, while developing the sharing economy into a positive driving force within London’s housing market.

The scheme would rely on a key principal of the sharing economy: the ability to build trust-based relationships. App-based access with user profiles, ratings and reviews allows usage and accountability to be tracked, would ensure the homeowner’s peace of mind in their absence.

This idea has been speculatively proposed as part of the Grosvenor Estate’s reinvestment strategy in Mayfair for the coming decades.

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Currently on exhibition at The Building Centre, the proposal for Mayfair New Town has developed a new leasehold structure based on the principal that the primary tenants, the Grosvenor long-term leaseholders, can rent out their properties at market rate for up to 90 days of the year, with the remaining periods preserved for Londoners at affordable rates, in order to avoid a levy on their empty property.

Delivery of such a system would rely on the city’s councils and major landowners to reconsider leasehold structures, how to tax empty homes, and their engagement with technology as a means of connecting empty properties with an audience of out-priced Londoners.

But this new kind of occupancy could provide a solution to empty central-London properties, and go some way towards alleviating the housing crisis.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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