Blog: Taking stock
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership recently released its annual report for the financial year just passed. There are a few headlines form the report that we are particularly excited about, writes Kristen Hubert at Shelter Scotland.
These are all great successes that show improvements on where we were last year. Since finalising the report we’ve also done some number crunching and found that the estimated value of the 558 homes brought back into use this year by Scotland’s local authority Empty Homes Officers is circa £93m! That’s a huge value of housing stock back in play that was lying dormant this time last year. We know full well that empty homes work won’t solve the housing crisis but this figure suggests that it can go some way to ease the pressure on the system by releasing additional units back into the supply chain, for rent, sale or owner occupation.
In our report we also made several recommendations of what still needs to change if we are going to unlock the full potential of empty homes work across Scotland.
- Mainstream funding for local Empty Homes Officer in all of Scotland’s Local Authorities, preferably on permanent contracts.
Too many Empty Homes Officers are on short term contracts that are at risk year on year. This hampers both recruitment and retention of quality staff. And we know that it is when Empty Homes Officers are operating at their best that we see the numbers of empty homes brought back into use rise.
- A diversification of financial incentive schemes offered by Scottish Government and Local Authorities to include more types of empty homes for more types of end uses. Specifically empty homes in areas of low demand, empty properties requiring extensive renovations or conversions, and empty homes whose end use is expected to be market sale or owner-occupation.
- A specific fund to support community groups and Social Enterprises to take forward empty homes projects, learning from the success of the UK Government’s Empty Homes Community Grants Programme.
- Local Taxation Reform to retain a financial incentive for empty home owners to bring their properties back into use.
In short, we don’t want to lose what has already been won in terms of funding streams, but we do want these incentives broadened so different types of owners aspiring to a range of end uses can be encouraged to bring their long term empty properties back into use.
- The introduction in legislation of an empty homes appropriate enforcement tool by the Scottish Government, using one of two potential options (in order of preference):
1) Introduction of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership’s proposed Housing Re-use Power.
2) Inclusion of the Land Reform Review Group’s proposal for a Compulsory Sale Order power to be included in the Land Reform Bill, with a definition of the scope of the power to cover not just vacant and derelict land but also long term empty homes and buildings.
We have long been calling for an enforcement tool that councils feel empowered to use in the worst empty homes cases. Always as a last resort, but nonetheless necessary to have as that last and final option when nothing else has proved successful. The current powers are not fit for purpose.
The big change that has taken place as of April 2015 is the expansion of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership Team. We’ve welcomed 1 and a half new members of staff, more than doubling the capacity we had previously. We’ve also secured a budget for new shared services pilot projects (where 2 councils share an Empty Homes Officer to test out the potential in their area). This expansion will enable us to push forward these recommendations and to work with more organisations, owners and community members to encourage empty homes back into use.