Bringing empty houses back into use could be the solution to re-housing Kirklees’ homeless people, says a Lindley councillor.
Figures uncovered via Freedom of Information requests revealed that more than 2,000 homes across the borough have been empty for six months or longer.
An estimated 206 people are reported to be homeless in Kirklees - including five rough sleepers - though the real figure may be higher.
Cahal Burke, a Liberal Democrat councillor who has sought to bring homes back into use in Lindley, has challenged Kirklees Council to make more use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs), which can be used by local authorities to temporarily take over properties that have been empty for at least two years.
He called the number of empty homes “a scandal”. Kirklees sits at the top end of 276 councils across the UK with high numbers of empty properties - totalling more than 214,000 nationally. There are 2,113 in the borough. Of these, 722 have been empty for two years or more, 270 for five years or more and 117 for at least 10 years. None were brought back into use during 2016/17.
In Calderdale the number stands at 1,358. No figures were available for homes brought back into use.
Clr Burke said: “It’s a scandal that so many homes across Kirklees are empty at the same time that there is an increasing issue of affordable housing and the number of people who are homeless and sleeping rough is increasing.
“This is a national problem, but it is also a significant local problem. Long-term unoccupied homes often attract vandalism and anti-social behaviour. They also limit the pool of available housing.”
He acknowledged the good work being done locally to support homeless people by the council, police, churches and charities such as Huddersfield Change Project and Huddersfield Mission.
But he said there remains an urgent need to “look at options” to bring empty homes, the majority of which are privately owned, back into use.
Despite being created in 2004 EDMOs have been used by just one in three councils. Some authorities have described them as too complex, difficult to use and costly.
Some local authorities have adopted different approaches including levying an empty homes premium through council tax and other enforcement action, including planning enforcement and building control.
A Kirklees Council spokesperson said: “We would welcome further options to assist with increasing the availability of appropriate accommodation. We do currently work with the owners of empty properties to bring them back into use. We look at each situation individually and provide a tailored package of advice ranging from signposting to other relevant organisations to offering a property inspection plan around the requirements for letting – if this is something they would be interested in.
“Where we are made aware of an empty property the council works with the owners to ensure that it is safe and secure and does not pose a hazard to neighbouring properties or members of the public – using negotiation or enforcement where it is necessary.
“It is also worth remembering that anyone at risk of homelessness can contact the council’s Housing Solutions Service. They will work with them to prevent homelessness by assisting them to maintain their existing home, where possible, or find appropriate alternative accommodation.”