Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Tens of thousands of empty houses in the West Country is "a scandal"

A Freedom of Information request was made last month asking how many empty council properties there are in the District. It is still awaiting a reply:
Empty and unused properties owned by EDDC - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

A reply to an earlier FOI request on empty housing in Exmouth received this reply:

... there are 547 long term empty properties in East Devon, 130 of which are in Exmouth.

The Council works reactively and proactively in its efforts to bring long term empty properties back into use. Our reactive work includes responding to reports of empty properties, inspecting the properties and working with the owner to bring the property back into use.

We also work proactively to investigate all properties that have been empty for more than 5 years, more than 4 years etc. to see what more can be done to bring this properties back into use.

There are sometimes cases where a property owner may refuse to work with the Council and in these cases we sometimes have no option but to resort to enforcement action.

Latest long term empty homes list for Exmouth - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

There was also a question last year about second homes:
Second Homes - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Thanks to an alert from the East Devon Alliance
24,000 homes in Devon and Cornwall empty for more than 6 months | East Devon Alliance

... we learn that there is a 'scandal' which seems impossible to address:

Empty homes blighting Devon and Cornwall

By Western Morning News | Posted: August 17, 2014

By Lyn Barton, WMN reporter, Twitter: @BartonLyn

Comments (1)

More than 24,000 homes lie empty in Devon and Cornwall, a third of which have been abandoned for more than six months, blighting neighbourhoods and stopping families from setting down roots.

According to figures obtained by the Western Morning News, three years worth of multi-million projects to bring down the number of empty homes have failed to make a major impact on the problem.

Housing campaigners say that in the Westcountry, where more than 50,000 are estimated to be waiting for social housing, the situation is a scandal.

Helen Williams, chief executive of Empty Homes, an independent charitable organisation which campaigns on the issue, said it was more than about bricks and mortar.

“It matters, especially when you think about the number of people in Devon and Cornwall looking for an affordable home,” she said. “It matters to them and it matters to their families. It’s estimated that there are more than 50,000 people on housing waiting lists across the two counties. If you compare that with the number of empty homes it is clear that bringing these back into use will make a real difference. Not to make the most of a property, especially in a place like Devon and Cornwall, is a waste.”

Ms Williams said people intensely disliked having homes left empty for a long time in their community, fearing they are a target for crime and vandalism.

Houses with no-one living in them tended to deteriorate in appearance and their gardens became overgrown, often spoiling the amenity of a whole street.

Shelter, the campaign which tackles homelessness, said bringing empty homes back into service would be a start, but much more was needed if everyone was to have clean, decent accommodation.

Roger Harding, director of communications, policy and campaigns, said: “With so many priced out of the housing market, it is simply wrong that homes stand empty while people are desperately in need of a roof over their head. However even if every empty home in Devon and Cornwall was brought back into use, other solutions would still be needed to meet the scale of the local housing need.If we want to make sure that every family can find a stable place to live, the Government must make a real commitment to build more affordable homes and give people the chance to find a decent and affordable place to call their own.”

Figures from the House of Commons library for 2013, the last full year for which they are available, show that in Devon and Cornwall there were 24,166 empty homes, 7% down on the cumulative figure for the two counties in 2010, which was 25,991.

In Cornwall, where 28,000 households are in the queue for social housing, there were 8,331 empty homes out of a housing stock numbering just over 253,000. A total of 3,440 of these homes have been empty for more than six months.

In Devon, housing is managed by each of the nine districts and by the unitary authority in Torbay, the latter of which has 2,921 empty homes – 992 – the highest in the county – have had no-one live in them for more than six months.

A spokesman for the unitary authority, where just over 1,300 are on the social housing waiting list, said they worked hard to deal with empty homes, the owners of which faced hefty bills if they were vacant for a long time.

“When an empty property is brought to our attention we approach the owners and offer advice and provide support to help them bring the houses back into use,” he said. “This is sometimes all that is required to bring the house up to a suitable standard to be lived in again.”

As in most places, owners of properties that have been empty for one month and up to two years have to pay 100% of council tax. Those long term empty for years or more, pay 150%.

The highest proportion of empty homes in districts of Devon is at North Devon, where 1.61% of the 43,000 housing stock has been empty for more than six months numbering 695 properties - a 42% increase from 487 the previous year. There are currently just over 1,900 people waiting for social housing in the district.

Executive member for Housing, Faye Webber said the authority operated a number of schemes to bring empty properties up to scratch, including loans to owners. “North Devon Council recognises the importance of bringing empty homes back into use to create affordable housing solutions for local people,” she said. “As part of this, we have an active strategy and action plan to try to address this.”

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government, said there was an ongoing drive to reduce empty properties and money had been spent solving the problem.

“We have provided over £4 million to community groups and housing associations in the West Country over the past four years and are expecting nearly 80 empty homes to be brought back into use by March 2015. This funding has also delivered wider spin-off benefits including a project in Somerset intended to develop the employment skills and qualifications of ex-offenders.”

Empty homes blighting Devon and Cornwall | Western Morning News

See also:
Homes From Empty Homes
Homes From Empty Homes » Previous Sucessful Empty Homes Campaigns
Futures Forum: Housing crisis in East Devon - what housing crisis? ... "Evidence for a housing shortage is hard to come by."
Futures Forum: Housing numbers in East Devon
Futures Forum: East Devon: taxing second homes

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