NEARLY 4,500 homes are lying empty in Kirklees – while thousands of people continue to wait for council houses.
According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, the district has 4,487 vacant properties – more than one for every 100 residents.
The number is higher than the authorities of Leeds, which has 3,865, and Wakefield (3,259) but lower than Bradford (7,129).
The figures have been revealed at a time when more than 6,800 households are on the official council house waiting list for Kirklees.
David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes Agency charity, said problems with long-term empty properties were twofold.
He said: “No-one wants to live next door to a rundown house and that’s almost inevitably what happens to properties when they lie empty for a long time. It has got quite out of control.
“That would be bad enough on its own, but the other problem is that, compared to other countries, we have got this big backlog of housing need.
“We can’t address that need quickly enough purely by building new homes.
“It’s really important to look at what more can be done to bring empty homes back into use.”
He said authorities had provisions to improve the problem, including offering tenant-finding services to property owners.
In extreme cases councils can compulsorily purchase properties that have stood empty for long periods.
According to figures released in December by the Government department for Communities and Local Government, there are 6,891 households on the waiting list for local authority accommodation in Kirklees.
A ‘household’ is anything from one individual to a whole family looking for a home.
But housing and homelessness charity Shelter said the issue could not be solved simply by bringing empty homes back into use.
A spokeswoman said: “Any steps by local authorities to bring empty homes back into use are welcome, particularly if these are used to provide homes for families in housing need.
“However, even if all the empty homes in England were brought back into use, there would still be nearly 1.5million households on housing waiting lists.
“Significant numbers of new, affordable, family sized homes are urgently needed to ensure that all people can access a home of their own.”
A Kirklees Council spokesman admitted that empty homes were a wasted resource in a climate of acute housing need.
“Bringing them back into use is very important to the council as it lessens the pressure on the housing register and helps local families to solve their housing problems.
“We work extremely hard in this area, liaising with property owners to look at ways forward and advising on how to bring homes back into use.
“We also facilitate the sale or management of properties. For example, we worked with Accent Regeneration to acquire and refurbish empty property and bring it back into use on Woodhead Road, Lockwood, and Leeds Road, Huddersfield. The council uses legislation to make sure properties are kept safe and secure while empty, which in turn helps the local community”.
He said that in a small number of cases, the council had enforcement powers such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders and Compulsory Purchase Orders.