A Micro-Market for Vacant Housing

Vacant buildings can languish for a variety of reasons. Some are chronically disused: a neglected property falls into disrepair, making it a liability that is eventually more expensive to fix than to ignore. For others, leaving units empty is a management choice. When rent-controlled apartment buildings are slated for refurbishment or re-purposing, for example, the process of moving tenants out can take years, with the first units vacated remaining useless until the process is finished. In London, which has its fair share of blighted properties, one organization is working on a solution to the city’s housing waste problem by offering community-minded individuals the chance to live cheaply in apartment homes that would otherwise sit empty. Renting these properties encumbers many owners’ long-term plans, so Dot Dot Dot takes advantage of a legal loophole by vetting and placing live-in “guardians” in the properties. Guardians are people who are willing to exchange traditional tenants’ rights — their stay can be terminated with only two weeks’ advance notice — for reliable space at a fraction of the typical cost. So far, the new company is on a positive trajectory, Hibbert says, enjoying support from an advisory board that includes affordable housing advocates and legal professionals. Since its launch last summer, Dot Dot Dot has established contracts with several private property owners and two housing associations, with more on the way. Hibbert expects to begin to see profits by the fall.

Atlantic Cities

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