Housing campaigners toured the Elephant & Castle on Thursday to highlight the number homes that are empty or used for short-let holiday accommodation in new developments.
Groups including Southwark Defend Council Housing, Southwark Group of Tenants' Organisations, Southwark Law Centre and Latin Elephant sent an open letter to Southwark Council last week, and gathered on Thursday for a socially distanced tour of four developments where there are empty homes – or flats used as short-term rentals like Airbnb – at One the Elephant, Elephant One, Strata and Elephant Park.
"This has been our most popular protest in terms of social media," said Tanya Murat from Southwark Defend Council Housing.
"We believe we have tapped into a deep anger about the way society is organised to ensure that a fraction of the population receive the vast majority of the housing, even when lives are being lost as a result.
"We want Southwark Council to take measures to solve the crisis and save thousands of lives. We want to work with the council to pressure the government to open up empty homes."
Cris Claridge from the Southwark Group of Tenants' Organisations said: "Will Mahon from Action on Empty Homes has informed the SGTO that up to 1 in 25 homes in Southwark are long-term empty or underutilised second homes and Airbnb lets.
"Some of these empty properties are council properties awaiting demolition, so property developers – including housing associations – can build properties, many of which will be bought for investment; the rich buying second homes and leaving them empty.
"We call on housing associations with empty properties during this crisis to make their founders proud and make all of their empty properties available for the people who need them.
"Communities see the potential in empty homes and the negative impact empty homes they have on their neighbourhoods. Southwark Council, Landlords and the community must work together to access properties, raise funding and bring empty homes into use to provide the secure homes for local people which they would like to see delivered."
In April, Southwark Council's cabinet heard that 36 empty council-owned studio flats in the Churchyard Row development – next to the Uncle tower- would be used to provide short-term housing during the COVID-19 crisis.
The longer-term intention is to use these homes for key worker housing at 50 per cent of local market rent.
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