Tackling the blight of Plymouth's private empty homes

Plans to bring 234 empty private sector homes back into use over the next three years are about to go before the Council's Cabinet for approval.

The Council's trailblazing Empty Homes Team intends to use a variety of innovative measures to tackle the problem of houses lying empty for years whilst the city's low earners struggle to find affordable housing.

Its three-year Empty Homes Strategy aims to increase the citys supply of decent, energy efficient and affordable private homes by:

  • Converting and re-using empty properties
  • Making the best use of brownfield sites
  • Supporting the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods
  • Taking enforcement action against owners of long-term empty properties
  • Encouraging more owners to let their properties

Councillor Peter Brookshaw, Cabinet member for Housing and Safer Communities, said: "It's a disgraceful waste to have so many homes standing empty for long periods of time when affordable housing is in such short supply.

"Besides anything else, these properties are a blight on their local neighbourhoods and often prove a magnet for anti social behaviour such as graffiti, fly tipping and vandalism."

Over the last five years the team has brought 505 empty homes back into use. Between April 2003 and April 2007 the number of private sector homes left empty for more than six months dropped by 1,596.

This was achieved by working closely on various projects with the nine registered social landlords which, together with the Council, make up the Plymouth Empty Homes Partnership.

These included:

  • Devonport LOTS (Living Over the Shop) - a project, in partnership with Sarsen Housing Association, part of the Aster Group. Supported by £220,000 Devonport Regeneration Community Partnership funding, £102,000 Housing Corporation Temporary Social Housing Grant and £380,000 from owners of commercial premises. The scheme provides affordable flats for rent to local people.
  • Working with owners of long term empty and often run down properties to persuade them either to renovate or sell
  • Taking compulsory purchase action in the case of owners who were impossible to trace

Under its HouseLet scheme, the Empty Homes Team used 62 previously empty homes as good quality, temporary accommodation for nearly 350 homeless families who would otherwise have been housed in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation.

The team is currently working with other Council departments to draw up plans to force the sale of privately owned, long term empty properties. This will only happen in cases where owners owe the Council money and have either been unwilling or unable to deal with the property and its associated problems.

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