Posted by: Alex Wellman21/09/2011
The great empty homes debate has come crashing back onto the news agenda this week.
Andrew Stunell, the communities minister, has announced that the government is to consult on giving local authorities the discretionary power to charge extra council tax on homes which have lain dormant for more than two years.
It is hoped that this will either push hoarding owners to get their house in order – literally – or raise extra cash for councils already straining for breath having pulled their belt so tight.
The news is pretty much the first action on empty homes that the coalition has undertaken (discounting the extension from six months to two years that an authority can try and take charge of a property) and it is a step in the right direction.
There are some 700,000 empty homes across the UK – 14,000-odd alone in Leeds – and finding ways to free them up and get them back into use will not only benefit families in need of somewhere to live.
If this measure has the desired affect and speeds up the release of empty homes back into use, surely it could also have the knock on effect of reviving communities and creating jobs.
While there is no a hard and fast rule on what an empty property is (they range from two homes in a plush neighbourhood to a large number in housing estates), often they can have negative affects on an area.
In some cases they can push down prices of neighbouring properties and occasionally act as a magnet for anti-social behaviour.
In these cases, the people that will move away will be those who can afford to, leaving others – and the idea of mixed communities – far behind.
Some may argue that as the home will be privately owned, it is the right of the owner to do with that property what they want.
This is of course true, but is it right? Is it right that families and communities can be held to ransom over a drawn-out planning wrangle or an owner’s desire to increase the value of their asset?
No it is not, that is why this looks like a fair compromise. In no way is it forcing an owner to sell. Far from it. Instead it putting in place the ability for local authorities to ensure communities get something out of nothing.
As with anything though, we must not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The announcement is but a day old and the date of consultation has not yet been announced.
As with anything the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and in the case of empty homes, we need to hope we are not left with a rumbling stomach.
From Can we fix it?
Alex Wellman takes a look at what’s going on in the social housing contracting sector