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Tackling empty homes in Newcastle

September 20, 2012

Providing people with affordable homes and genuine choice in the housing market is one of the city’s greatest challenges.

To help meet our priority of creating decent neighbourhoods, tackling empty homes is a must.

Empty homes attract vandalism, arson and fly-tipping, give an area a poor reputation, reduce the value of neighbouring properties, keep rents high and deny homes to people in need.

Statistically, our record regards dealing with empty homes is good. The empty homes rate in Newcastle is 3.05%, which is the lowest in the region and among the eight core cities only Bristol (2.39%) and Birmingham (2.8%) are lower. Our figure is also lower than the national average (3.13%). This is very impressive given that urban areas tend to have higher concentrations of empty properties.

However more needs to be done. As well as the damaging social consequences that empty properties bring, as a city we are consulting on how we are to equip our rapidly growing population with the houses that they need. Before we agree how many houses will be required on the greenbelt, reducing the empty home rate is a priority.

A large number of empty properties increases the pressure for new development on greenbelt sites.

Our council housing ALMO, Your Homes Newcastle, along with many of the city’s housing associations have an outstanding record with regards reducing voids. Therefore our focus needs to be concentrated towards the private rented sector.

There is a particular concentration of empty homes in particular areas, such as Benwell, Byker and Cowgate which impacts on the quality of life in these areas and must be improved.

We have approximately 3,700 empty units in Newcastle and there are probably around a further 1,000 properties which we estimate are capable of being brought back into use.

Our message as a city council is clear. We will work with responsible landlords and promote a wide range of measures to help landlords who seek to reduce empty homes. However with landlords who are not responsible and do not engage with the council, we will be tough.

Our task has been made harder as current funding streams such as Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder and Growth Point have been cut.

We as a City Council have been innovative. We have set up a £25m Future Homes Fund; which is made up from grants, prudential borrowing and capital receipts. The fund will help us tackle empty homes.

We have already committed nearly £500k to be targeted at empty properties which will be match-funded.

The creation of the Future Homes Fund helped contribute to our success in levering additional resource from the HCA. This will mean that in Byker, High Cross, Howdene and Cowgate we will be able to bring over 125 empty properties back in use. These are the areas in which we have the highest concentration of long term empty properties, and often the ones which are the hardest to tackle.

In the forthcoming year we aim to offer training to a further 200 private rented sector landlords, make better use of existing homes through disabled facility grants, consider options for alternative use for surplus student accommodation, and we will be reviewing uses for unpopular low demand stock. Furthermore one of our partners, Leazes Homes, has announced that they are prepared to act as a management agent on behalf of landlords.

Our Private Rented Service will be at the forefront of this effort, working with hundreds of landlords to remove obstacles, provide a highly focused lettings support service and signing up landlords to its service to deliver higher standards for existing and future tenants. We will continue to offer our popular Rent Deposit Schemes. Last year over 300 properties were brought back into use through direct help from the council. We hope to build on this.

We will however adopt a tough stance towards landlords who are irresponsible or wish to see properties stand empty. We are about to consult on measures to remove a wide range of council tax rental discounts on empty properties to encourage landlords to bring properties back into use. We are also prepared to use the full range of enforcement tools at our disposal, such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders and potentially CPO sales.

We do though intend to use this as a last resort; it is beneficial for everyone if landlords engage early.

The Fairer Housing Unit at the council seeks to maximise the numbers of well managed affordable homes across all tenures. The need to provide more choice in the housing market, especially focused on providing affordable choice will be discussed at our public Policy Cabinet on 12 September. Reducing empty homes is a key part of this.

We are working well with partners such as YHN, Leazes Homes and the Cyrenians and look forward to accelerating work in the future and increasing our engagement with housing associations to ensure that Newcastle remains as a city will low levels of empty homes.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2012 3:12 pm

    Can I ask why there always seem to be moves towards targeted funding for those in a vulnerable state – such as your aforementioned disabled facility grants? Also with regards to how run down properties are dealt with, why couldn’t some effort & time be put into finding out if any of the families who are desperate for housing, have Plumbers/builders/Carpenters & other skills in their ranks, who would possibly do work in their spare time as part of a community bring an area into a better state – as long as they had the chance to live there – Promoting the “respect for & willingness to work for” an affordable Social Housing home rather than forcing people to fit ever more stringent criteria as Vulnerable, needy, socially & economically!
    Please don’t think I am targeting your area- I am not. I am just voicing the opinions of many a disillusioned Social Housing Tenant & indeed those awaiting housing who feel they don’t want to “Dumb-Down” to attain (for want of a better word) the criteria for housing.
    Just an idea….

  2. Paws permalink
    September 26, 2012 1:19 pm

    Sounds like great work. I do wonder if there are any records of empty business premises and if it would be possible to develop a program to utilise these.

  3. A Marshall permalink
    November 5, 2012 8:59 pm

    Cllr Burke, whilst I encourage the council to take effective action against irresponsible landlords, what you/the council does not seem to mention here are the side effects of this policy upon homeowners in Newcastle who unfortunately may find themselves falling fowl of these measures that seem to be designed to target landlords.

    My partner recently moved in with me in my flat in Gateshead, leaving her property in Heaton vacant and now for sale. As the property is technically ‘liveable’ and dressed with some basic old furniture to entice potential buyers my partner is only eligible to a 10% council tax discount (which is soon to be 0% discount if council proposals go ahead in 2013). Previously when she lived there by herself she was eligible for 25% single person discount. So now, in addition to her share of the council tax in Gateshead, she now she pays more to NOT live in Newcastle. This doesn’t make sense.

    If the property was empty and ‘substantially unfurnished’ she would be eligible for total exemption for up to 6 months, however we (and all the local estate agents we’ve spoken to) think this would make the property significantly less attractive to potential buyers, especially in the current housing market where there are plenty of other similar flats for sale in the area. By dressing the property for sale in order to encourage its return to the housing stock she is consequently being charged hundreds of pounds (thousands even, if the property doesn’t sell) in council tax for doing so.

    We are young graduates, not landlords. We do not wish for the property to stand empty and cannot rent out the property as it is slightly in negative equity and consequently the mortgage does not permit it.

    Other council budget proposals have studies investigating the fairness and equality of proposed changes, however this policy doesn’t seem to mention equality or have any publicly accessible EINA documentation. Perhaps this proposed change could be amended so that it specifically targets only landlords who have empty properties, not homeowners struggling to sell their non-empty homes who are also affected by it.

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