Leaders vow to tackle Birmingham's empty homes 'scandal'
Council chiefs in Birmingham have vowed to reclaim one vacant property every day in its bid to tackle the city's empty homes ‘scandal’.
There are nearly 10,000 private properties left to rot in the city – around a quarter of which have been unoccupied for more than three years.
The city council has today set itself a target of bringing back to use a minimum of 350 properties a year, focusing on Ladywood and Hodge Hill where there are scores of family-sized homes going to waste.
The issue has naturally been juxtaposed with Birmingham’s chronic housing shortage but empty homes create their own problems attracting crime ranging from fly-tipping to modern slavery.
While particularly troublesome cases can also bring down nearby property values as well as have a psychological impact on neighbours, the council has stated.
This morning (Wed 17th) the cabinet approved its latest five-year Private Sector Empty Property Strategy.
Matthew Smith, head of the empty homes team, said: “It’s scandalous that in the midst of a national housing crisis and with homelessness reaching unprecedented levels that people continue to leave properties abandoned and in appalling conditions that cause huge problems for their neighbours and surrounding neighbourhood.
“We’ll continue to work with local communities to ensure that where we can take action to bring homes back in to use, we will do so and request that should anyone be experiencing any issues with empty homes, to get in touch.”
Part of the strategy is to raise awareness of the problem.
The council has its own ‘BCC empty homes’ page on social media which highlighted a recent case in Shard End where the property had been raided and stripped of metal causing damage to gas works.
And earlier this year they shone the spotlight on properties left for up to 20 years.
The council returned 1,647 problematic and long term empty homes in the five years from 2013 and also secured a further 198 from unauthorised access.
The authority has aimed to match and better that figure between now and 2024 by reclaiming 1,750 homes.
Properties are classed as long-term empty after six months.
There can be a range of causes including the owners being in hospital, care or prison.
But in other cases the owners may not be able to afford refurbishment works to achieve the sale or rent value they are seeking, they may lack the know-how or confidence to deal with the property while some may just be unwilling to do anything about them.
Generally the council’s strategy is to advise and support owners where the property is empty for up to two years as well as proceeding with proportionate enforcement action.
After two years the authority may resort to a compulsory purchase order or impose a council tax premium.
There are around 12,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list, with around 2,600 in temporary accommodation including bed and breakfasts.
While dozens of rough sleepers have been identified in the city.
Deputy leader Councillor Brigid Jones said that bringing empty homes back into use would be ‘key’ to tackling Birmingham’s housing shortage.
Concerns were raised by some about the focus on Ladywood and Hodge Hill.
Councillor Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrat group leader said: “It seems to me to create a perverse incentive of the team pulling back from work in other areas if they are not hitting targets in those constituencies.”
But Rob James, service director for housing transformation, responded saying the council had already been successful in bringing family-sized homes back into use from the two wards and reassured work in other parts of the city would not be neglected.