Empty Homes: What is being done to get tens of thousands of empty Yorkshire properties into use

Two larder buildings on  Wright Street, Hull, have been transformed into affordable apartments.''Pictured are  Probe project manager Jayne Brindley with Coun John Black from Hull Council. Picture Tony Johnson
Two larder buildings on Wright Street, Hull, have been transformed into affordable apartments.''Pictured are Probe project manager Jayne Brindley with Coun John Black from Hull Council. Picture Tony Johnson
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SINCE the late 1800s, more than 90 people have lived at numbers 66 and 67 Wright Street in Hull.

But after being a shop, a church, and later home to a charity which supported some of the city’s most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach people, it was left empty, and like so many vacant properties around the region, fell into dereliction, becoming a target for vandals and pests.

The properties on Wright Street before refurbishment

The properties on Wright Street before refurbishment

However, today, numbers 66 and 67 Wright Street tell a different story.


‘Concerted effort’ needed to bring tens of thousands of empty Yorkshire homes to life

In October last year, not-for-profit community group Probe began work transforming the unsightly Victorian buildings into seven apartments, packed with original features, which will soon be available as affordable housing for local people.

According to the most recent Government figures, Hull has the second highest number of local authority-owned properties classed as empty in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Our mission to contribute to the regeneration of Hull gives local people somewhere wonderful to live at affordable rates

Steve Alltoft, general manager of Probe, Hull

But Hull Council has been working hard to rectify that, and over recent years has attracted more than £15m of Government funding to bring empty properties back into use.

Wright Street fell under the Government’s Empty Homes Scheme, which allows organisations to purchase properties that have been unoccupied for more than six months, and is the third apartment building to completed by the Probe. It has also worked on transforming the former Lion House pub on Hessle Road, and Rank House, the birthplace of movie mogul J Arthur Rank.The organisation has “grand” plans for the future, and with 1,804 homes classed as empty long-term in Hull alone last year, it will have no shortage of projects.

General manager Steve Alltoft, said: “Our mission to contribute to the regeneration of Hull gives local people somewhere wonderful to live at affordable rates. This property on Wright Street adds further very high quality accommodation to our portfolio and I am very proud of our achievements so far.”

Since the most recent figures were compiled by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Hull Council has got some of its empty properties into use - and knows exactly what it’s doing with the rest.

The properties on Wright Street before refurbishment

The properties on Wright Street before refurbishment

Out of its stock of 24,907 council houses, 604 are currently empty. More than half, 308, are due to be demolished to make way for major new build regeneration programmes; 105 are in the process of being let and a further 183 are being refurbished ready to be let shortly. The remaining eight properties include four being transferred to the health service to assist with bed blocking in hospitals, two bungalows due to be demolished and two bedsits are awaiting to be connected to flats to make larger homes.

It is also working with the owners of private empty properties to get them back into use with its Empty Homes programme. Since 2012, Hull Council has brought around 600 private empty properties back into use working with partners in the charity sector like Probe, using £15m in funding from two Government empty homes programmes, and it will use additional funding to target a further 200 properties by 2018.

Hull Council’s portfolio holder for council infrastructure, Coun John Black, said the council remains committed to bringing as many properties back into use as possible.

“The Hull Empty Homes programme is a fine example of a successful cross-sector partnership, working together to improve the quality of affordable housing in the city and reducing the number of unsightly empty properties,” he said. “It also allows us to share knowledge, pool funding streams but most importantly create employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities for local people.

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

“There are so many far-reaching benefits to tackling empty properties and we remain committed to working with our partners in order to build sustainable and flourishing communities and reduce other associated issues, such anti-social behaviour.”

Last year 77,117 homes across Yorkshire were classed as empty by the DCLG, but as that figure is based on a specific date, and could include the gaps between tenants moving out and in, it is the long-term empty figure - that which records dwellings as empty for more than six months, that is most important. In 2014, that number was 27,058.

As the biggest local authority in Yorkshire and the Humber, it is perhaps unsurprising that Leeds had the highest number of empty houses in the region last year, 10,725, of which 2,915 were classed as long-term empty, according to the DCLG. But there too, the third sector is working with the council to make the most of them.

Within the local authority’s housing stock, the number of empty houses has fallen year on year since 2004, and last year stood at 413 - 3.1 per cent.

Coun Debra Coupar, executive member for communities said: “We always need some empty properties in Leeds as this turnover helps to keep the housing market moving. However, our focus will remain those properties that lie empty for more than six months and that cause a blight on communities.

“With continued investment, we can turn around empty properties to provide much needed homes.”

One of these projects is Leeds Action To Create Homes, which works with homeless people and volunteers to bring disused and derelict properties back into use. As well as providing homes, over the last 19 years provided skill-building opportunities to hundreds of people using Empty Homes funding.

According to the charity Empty Homes, having a high proportion of empty houses in an area can be linked to both deprivation and lower than average house prices,

Chief executive Helen Williams said having a dedicated team tackling empty homes within the local authority is key to bringing the number of vacant properties down. She said: “Often high levels of empty housing in an area can be associated with poor quality private sector rented accommodation and high turnover. We promote making the link between tackling poor management in parts of the private sector, not only to address the concerns of those living there, but the stem the flow of empty properties.”

In Kirklees, which came third regionally for the highest number of empty properties with 6,151, of which 2,507 were long-term vacant, its private lettings service works with both landlords and tenants to support sustained tenancies and keep properties occupied.

It also provides a free property inspection service, which provides improvement plans to help landlords get properties up to a rentable standard.

In Bradford, which had the highest number of long-term empty properties last year, 3,942, a dedicated team is attempting to tackle the issue, and the council has seen a reduction in the number of empty properties. A Bradford Council spokesman said: “The team offers options to property owners, including a legal advice service and Interest free Empty Property Loans for those wanting to renovate. If owners cannot or will not bring properties back into use, the Council can either carry out Compulsory Purchase or Enforced Sale. The team also works with agencies and charities to maximise funding to renovate and sell properties Compulsory Purchased, to bring them back into use.”

Sheffield had the highest number of local authority-owned homes empty last year, 647, out of a total of 3,061 across the region.

Janet Sharpe, director of housing and neighbourhoods service at Sheffield Council said the figure represented less than 2 per cent of its stock, but said it is working to reduce the number.

She said: “What the data doesn’t show is that almost 60 percent of the homes had been empty for four weeks or less, with 70 percent empty for six weeks or less.”