Empty Homes Week 2022 saw local authorities across the country showcasing work to bring empty homes into use.
During the Week we showcased a number of case studies and promoted local news and action as well as calling for new and improved powers for local authorities and investment by central Government.
With a focus on the opportunity to retrofit while bringing empty homes into use to meet housing need and contribute to meeting NetZero targets our case studies included a whole home retrofit project by Derbyshire Dales Council on 19th Century terraced homes in Matlock which illustrates what can be achieved by fabric-first whole home retrofit.
We also saw an excellent example of a local council making best use of existing powers in a blog showcasing the use of Empty Dwelling Management Order and Compulsory Purchase powers in Central Bedfordshire
Other examples of local councils participating in the Week included:
Babergh where the District Council promoted its Empty Homes Renovation Loans of up to £20,000
Birmingham City Council where the empty property team have brought over 500 homes back to use in the last two years with plenty of examples on their dedicated Twitter account @bccemptyhomes
Bristol City Council who offer an extensive loans programme targeted towards developers bringing properties back into use and where Mayor Marvin Rees welcomed successful action against empties in the city.
Carlisle City Council
Cambridge City Council where Cllr Mike Todd-Jones, Executive Councillor for Housing, said: “I’m very committed to working with our Empty Homes Officer to ensure that as many empty properties are brought back into use as possible. We have a serious housing shortage in our city and every empty home denies an individual or a family somewhere to live. “Unfortunately, some owners of empty homes can hinder the council’s efforts to make the best use of housing stock and, while the council is proactive in identifying empty homes, we also need every assistance from the public to identify empty homes so that we can bring them back into use. “Some properties are bought as investments and are left empty while they accrue value in a market where property prices continue to increase. There is no justification for an investor to leave a property empty – as these properties could be providing a home to people in need of one. Renting properties out while their capital value increases will not affect the investment, and those with the means to buy properties and leave them empty retain a certain social moral obligation to let them out as homes to others.”
Dorset where Councillor Graham Carr-Jones, Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Safety, pointed to recent successes: “We are delighted to work with property owners. Turning an empty building into a flat to rent gives someone on the housing register with links to the area, a stable and quality home.
“Not only do we aim to get empty houses back into use, but we also turn them into homes for families on our housing register. This saves us money by reducing our reliance on temporary accommodation including bed and breakfast.”
Durham where the team have brought over 1,000 properties back into use over the last five years.
East Devon where the council called on communities to report empties so that they can take action to bring them back into use.
Kensington and Chelsea where the local press speculated about overseas ownership in the light of global events and the imposition of sanctions on Russians in London.
Leicester where the empty homes team brings over 200 empty homes back into use every year
Mendip who offer grants to bring empties into use.
Middlesbrough where a £1million cash injection was announced to bring more empties back into use through council property company Middlesbrough Development Company (MDC) which is working with local partners including the Redcar-based Ethical Housing Company and its sister company social enterprise The Ethical Lettings Agency. Tony Dodds of MDC said that by: "working with socially responsible landlords to acquire and refurbish houses to a good standard before re-letting them at affordable rates...we're actively generating a pipeline of other properties into the scheme."
"We're using local contractors for the refurbishment work and tenants are sourced in conjunction with Middlesbrough Council, and in all we're hoping to bring up to 50 units back into beneficial use for local families through this initiative."
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston adds: "Empty homes can blight streets and whole communities if they're left untended for too long. That's why it's a priority for us to tackle empty homes as part of wider neighbourhood initiatives to address the issues people in our communities face."
"There are real benefits in getting neglected empty homes back in to use as good quality, affordable, ethically managed housing.. It is important that we support local communities in transforming their neighbourhoods through activity such as bringing empty homes back to use and tackling anti-social behaviour."
Mid Suffolk who urged residents to report empty homes to the council
North Norfolk where Cllr Wendy Fredericks, Portfolio Holder for Housing, commented “We have a real shortage of homes in the District - in particular market-rent homes suitable for people who cannot afford to buy a home.
Every empty home that is brought back into use can make a real difference to people desperate for somewhere to live and this is a practice we wish to continue.”
North West Leicestershire where three cannabis farms have just been reported to the district council in empty properties.
Plymouth where the council reported on recent successful action against empties in the city. Councillor Vivien Pengelly, the Cabinet member for Housing and Communities, emphasised the importance of this work, saying: "I'm very proud of the work that we do on empty homes and am determined to carry on our very proactive stance on the issue.”
"There are currently hundreds of households waiting for a home which is why it's so important to ensure we have as few empty properties in the city as possible."
Preston where an active programme of making homes from empty homes is underway with partners Community Gateway
Rother who offer an incentives scheme and tenant finder service for landlords
Rushcliffe in Nottingham.
Ryedale where the council urged the public to alert them to empties in their area.
Salford where a leasing scheme is being promoted as reported in Landlord Today
St Helens where 360 properties have been brought back into use in the last four years, as the local St Helen's Star reported.
The London borough of Southwark where grants of up to £40,000 are available and a loan scheme also operates, as reported in the South London Press
Stafford where funding for council action was recently renewed after successful action to bring 500 homes back into use, as reported in the Stafford Express and Star
Stratford upon Avon where assistance and enforcement are both part of the picture in getting empty homes into use.
Swale where local Councillor Ben Martin, Cabinet Member for Housing, commented.
“We’ve helped people find the right support and funding to help bring their previously disused properties back into use
“Forty-one properties have been bought back into use in Swale so far this financial year, twenty-two of which are thanks to more than £1 million from Kent County Council’s No Use Empty loan scheme.
“The scheme aims to create sustainable accommodation across Kent by helping landlords, owners and developers bring properties that have been empty for more than six months back into use.
“The loans are interest free, range from £25,000 to £175,000 per applicant and must bring properties back into use via renting or selling.
“We also have a reporting tool on our website for members of the community to report any empty homes in their local area.
“Bringing empty homes back into use helps us meet local housing needs and creates safer and more resilient communities.”
Other participating authorities publicising initiatives and support to bring wasted empty homes back into use included:
Telford and Wrekin where Cllr Richard Overton introduced a video showcasing the work of the council's empty homes officer and offering support for her work as it showed some truly appalling examples of abandoned empties she has been working to bring back to use.
Woking where the council are actively promoting work with local community groups to bring empty homes into use and also promoting their 'Lets Rent' scheme for landlords
Wolverhampton council promoted their incentives scheme and the availability of advice on probate for those inheriting properties - with 110,000 council tax exempt 'homes vacant due to death of the owner' across England, in addition to our 238,306 long-term empties, it is clear why Wolves Council offer this service. These are potentially long-term empties of the future where inherited by those without the time, energy, money or knowledge to return them to use; while rising property prices post-pandemic can potentially incentivise inactivity by owners, who may believe empty homes will simply rise in value, while they simply sit back and do nothing.
Beyond the many local initiatives and stories of both successes and challenges, more general national coverage of the Week and the wider empty homes issue, amidst a national housing crisis, appeared in the Big Issue.
While ARLA Propertymark the national organisation representing estate agencies and lettings agents wrote to the Secretary of State Michael Gove MP to support our call for targeted investment to bring empty homes back to use and upgrade them to help meet netZero and energy pricing challenges. The letter also specifically called for the Government to restart the successful Empty Homes Community Grants Programme which closed in 2015 - since which long-term empty homes numbers have risen steadily.