City plans to bring thousands of empty homes back into use back into use

Landlords could be encouraged to rent out properties that have stood vacant for a long time in Bradford as council chiefs try to reduce the numbers of empty homes in the city.

Council bosses have now outlined steps to reduce the 6,048 long-term empty properties – which represent 2.68 per cent of all housing in the district – by 1,700 by 2015.

Other Yorkshire local authorities also face problems but figures in a report to councillors shows the percentage of housing empty for a long period in Bradford is higher than other areas such as Leeds which had 1.95 per cent of homes empty, Doncaster which had 1.61 per cent, Ryedale which had 1.41 per cent and North East Lincolnshire which had 1.34 per cent vacant, at the time figures were put together.

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Bradford Council’s plan to tackle the issue will be discussed by its regeneration overview and scrutiny committee on January 5 and the executive on January 20.

The plan includes details of private sector leasing which would allow landlords to receive a loan to improve an empty property before it becomes a rented affordable home. Landlords would receive a guaranteed but below-the-market-rate income over a five-year period in return for the re-use of the property.

Another new proposal would see the development of a scheme where would-be property owners earn a discount on the price of an empty home acquired by the council by making improvements to the building or carrying out voluntary work in the community.

A report to members of the scrutiny committee says: “Due to its high visibility and immediate impact on communities, the problem of empty homes is one of the district’s high priorities.

“While the majority of empty homes are merely part of a cycle of people moving home, the long-term empty homes – those vacant for over six months – are often a cause for concern...”

The council has worked with partner organisations to bring more than 1,200 long-term empty properties back into use in the past two years.

Coun Val Slater, Bradford Council’s executive member responsible for housing, said: “Empty properties are a real blight on neighbourhoods and can act as a magnet for anti-social behaviour so it is important we continue to tackle the issue.

“This plan contains a number of practical ways of further reducing the number of empty properties.

“Not only is important to address eyesore properties, getting more vacant homes occupied also eases the waiting time for affordable homes in the district.”

Executive members will be asked to endorse a funding application to the Homes and Communities Agency.

The problem comes at a time when the population is growing and more houses will be needed.

A number of wards have a higher than average proportion of disused homes and in some, such as the city centre, for example, there are a number of unused flats.

In the city centre, the report says, the most common type of empty homes are flats, clustered in a few less visible areas. It blames “speculative purchase” and “market failure” as a reason why they are lying unused. Manningham also has a number of disused flats – this is partly because there is greater demand for family houses.

Existing ways of dealing with empty homes will continue, including providing advisors to work with landlords and property loans.

The authority has already increased the amount of council tax to be paid on long term empty homes from 50 per cent to 100 per cent as a deterrent to leaving properties unused and work is already under way tackling a number of issues.

Measures that can be used to tackle the problem include recording empty property details, bringing together potential purchasers, loans to help bring properties back into use and referral to a tenant finding service.