A previous ‘state of the nation’ article reviewed the situation with English local authority empty homes staff, based on a Freedom of Information request sent out by the Network over the Autumn. In today’s article we explore the wider context in which practitioners are operating.
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As the dust starts to settle after Empty Homes Week, it is time to take stock of where the empty homes world has arrived, in the closing months of 2016. To throw some light on the current picture, the Empty Homes Network conducted a survey over the Autumn to find out what staff were employed in addressing the issue of private sector empty homes in each local authority area within England.
Jon Fitzmaurice OBE, Director of self-help-housing.org, has called for a new round of funding for community housing organisations, building on the success of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme 2012-15.
A press release was issued on Tuesday, 29th November, as part of Empty Homes Week and reads as follows:
Call For Another Empty Homes Community Grants Programme To Bring Empty Properties Back Into Use To Meet Housing Need
The charity Empty Homes has advertised for a new Chair of its Board and for new trustees. The details are available from the Empty Homes website here.
In its letter to candidates for the Chair position, the Charity notes:
Charity Empty Homes has launched Empty Homes Week by announcing the results of a poll that show a strong desire amongst the public for the goverment to do more about the issue of empty homes.
The Press Release reads as follows:
Strong public support for the Government to place a greater priority on tackling empty homes
The Chancellor's Autumn statement offered £1.4billion of additional funding for affordable housing and, importantly, removed the restrictions on tenure which had diverted nearly all the capital budget to home ownership. These changes allow some room for hope that empty homes bids might get funded, although a lack of appetite amongst housing associations and perceived issues around value-for-money may still prove major impediments.
The Empty Homes Network has now submitted its evidence to the National Housing Taskforce set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Planning. The final documents were sent to Lord Richard Best, Chair of the workstream associated with empty homes, Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who were providing the secretariat for the workstream.
The goverment has published its reponses to the 'Consultation on further reform of the compulsory purchase system' that ended in May of this year.
Importantly, it seems likely to press ahead with the change to the balance of compensation between landlord and occupier.
The original consultation document stated:
We are about to write to England's 326 housing authorities asking them to complete a simple survey about the staff resources deployed to tackle private sector empties in their area.
We will be emailing the addresses we have for Freedom of Information requests, but initially we will not be presenting this as an FOI request, in order to avoid the associated bureaucracy. We are expecting the FOI addressee to pass the email down to operational levels - so it may come to our members eventually.
The charity Empty Homes has writtent to the Leaders/Mayors of the council-tax-collecting authorities in England announcing Empty Homes Week and requesting them to provide information about their empty homes staff.
The text of the email is given below:
We are writing to suggest ways your local authority can get engaged in Empty Homes Week 2016, and also to update you on our work at Empty Homes-the national campaigning charity.
The Empty Homes Network has drafted its submissions to the National Housing Taskforce, which is an initiative of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing and Planning. The submissions are now available for comment by our members.
Now the winners' euphoria has subsided, it's time to highlight all the good work reflected in the the results of the 2016 Empty Homes Awards.
The Republic of Ireland's Housing Agency has produced a report that explores the possibility of a national empty homes strategy for the Republic. The report draws on the experience of strategies and programmes in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, including for example that of Wales, but a strategy for an independent sovereign nation would be a an exciting precedent, where Ireland could well develop an exemplar from which we could all learn.
Leeds City Council has decided to provide a further 3-years' worth of funding to the Empty Homes Strategy, focusing on the Holbeck area of the city.
According to a recent story on Orbis's website, 700 squatters have been arrested since squatting of residential properties was criminalised in September 2012.
The story claims that 148 arrests were made in 2015, bringing the overall total up to 736 since the provisions of the Act went live.The story notes that many of those charged were also charged with other offences.
Gavin Barwell, M.P. for Croydon Central, is to replace Brandon Lewis as the Minister for Housing and Planning at the Department of Communities and Local Government. He is also to be Minister for London.
Barwell became an M.P. in 2010 and has previously been a junior member of the government, including as Parliamentary Private Secretary for Greg Clark. Greg Clark has also moved on, to be replaced as Communities Secretary by Savid Javid.
Research funded by the Nationwide Foundation and conducted by a team from Empty Homes [Agency] makes a strong case for delivering affordable housing through conversions of empty commercial spaces.
'Very informative - put me down for next year' was a typical feedback comment from a delegate to the 2016 Empty Homes Conference in Birmingham.
The average number of stars awarded by delegates was 4.53 out of 5, maintaining the level of satisfaction seen in previous years. And despite austerity, the numbers attending were only marginally lower than in 2015.
Property industry charity Landaid has awarded £1.3million in grants to projects to provide housing for young homeless people by bringing empty homes back into use.
There were 57 applications for the available grant, and awards were made to 15 projects, including World Habitat Award winners Canopy. Canopy's £80,000 grant will enable them to refurbish three properties and provide housing for six young homeless people.