Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead has revealed the isle currently has 1,551 long term empty homes being monitored by the authority.
Of these 1,540 are in private ownership and 11 properties belong to the council. Seven of the council homes are fire damaged, three are welfare units and one is currently under consideration for future housing plans.
Cllr Whitehead gave the figures during a council meeting last week in response to a query from Green councillor Tricia Austin who said: “With rising rents and mortgage costs and a shortage of affordable homes we know many residents are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“Meanwhile we are also aware of empty homes in the district and the simplest, most cost effective and sustainable way to increase housing supply is to make sure those are filled.”
Cllr Austin asked how many homes are empty and what is being done to get them back in use.
Cllr Whitehead said she disagreed that bringing empty homes back into use is the simplest and cheapest way to increase the housing supply, adding: “ If that were true, councils across the country would not be facing significant numbers of empty properties.”
She said council powers were different for public and for private homes,
She added: “Empty properties within our portfolio can and will be brought back into usage; we have legal ownership and can take action to make that happen.
“In terms of our ownership, we currently have 11 properties that would be classified as empty properties. Seven of these are fire damaged; three are welfare units, and one is currently under consideration for future housing plans.
“These properties can be brought back into use or already have future use, and we will be acting to ensure that they fulfil a very necessary social use.”
Cllr Whitehead said the number of long-term empty private properties was 1,540. These are homes registered as unoccupied and unfurnished for more than six months on the Council Tax register.
She broke this down as:
Properties empty for under two years 953
Two to five years 112
five to 10 years 40
Over 10 years 19.
The combined number as of 03 July 2023 was 1,124.
Added to these are:
Empty homes undergoing structural alterations and major repairs which are eligible for a 12-month discount 112.
And a further 315 properties empty for more than six months for varying reasons, but primarily as they are awaiting probate.
Cllr Whitehead said: “Properties owned by private individuals are not within our jurisdiction in the same way, and our powers are exceedingly limited in terms of direct actions that we can take to bring them back into usage; and the reason for the existence of empty properties is often not simple, frequently involving complex probate, issues of capacity, and illness.
“Lengthy multi agency approaches, often spanning years, are often necessary to bring even severely dilapidated homes into use; and a property in private ownership simply being empty, without linked dilapidation or significant social disruption, is not grounds to bring it into public hands, as they are considered private assets, with legal protections relating to that.”
The total of 1,551 is higher than the figures for the previous three years which recent data from the No Use Empty scheme says was:
Thanet council’s Empty Homes Plan 2020-23 (published December 2020) says: “Empty and derelict properties have an adverse effect on neighbourhoods. They are often unsightly and can attract crime and anti-social behaviour such as squatting, arson, graffiti and fly-tipping. They may also affect the value of neighbouring properties by creating an impression of neglect and decline within a community.
“Communities are less likely to flourish and prosper in areas where multiple empty properties are in close proximity. Such properties are not only eyesores and a source of neighbourhood distress, they are a wasted resource in a time of ever growing housing demand. Many people cannot access good housing, yet many homes stand vacant.”
The council has an empty homes officer who works with owners to bring properties back into use, via the No Use Empty scheme.
This is initially through informal approaches although enforcement action, such as compulsory purchase; carrying out works and then putting a charge on the building; enforced sale as a means of recovering a debt owed to the council (such as a debt resulting from works-in-default) or an EDMO when the council takes over the property to secure essential repairs and reoccupation.
Cllr Austin also suggested looking at converting empty commercial properties into homes but Cllr Whitehead said there could be issues with quality and energy efficiency.
No Use Empty loans
Cllr Whitehead said: “We offer loans and support via No Use Empty to bring properties requiring work back into usage; this has been very successful.
“We have also previously increased council tax on long term empty properties to up to three times standard rate, dependent on how long the property is empty; these all act as incentives to bring property back into use.
“Our target for the 2023/24 year is to help bring 120 long term empty homes back into use; our empty properties officer works incredibly hard, and we will continue to support those efforts.
“Although the overall number of empty properties is often quoted, it is also very worth noting that over the past 15 years our council has been the most successful local authority in the whole of Kent in terms of empty property interventions and in the number of homes brought back into use.”
What’s on offer
The No Use Empty scheme offers loans of up to £25,000 for anyone wishing to renovate a property that has been empty for six months or more. Find out more information on the No Use Empty web site.
An ‘Owner Occupier Loan’ initiative developed by Thanet council in partnership with KCC’s No Use Empty Team offers an interest free loan of up to a maximum of £20,000 to individual(s) who have purchased a home which has been empty for more than six months within Margate Central and Cliftonville West. The property must be occupied by them on completion of works for a minimum of five years.
Find out more from the Empty Homes Team on 01843 577059.
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