Councils must use empty homes to fight post-crisis homelessness, say experts

It's estimated that there are 40,000 homes left empty for at least six months across Scotland – and councillors must factor them into economic recovery plans as "an asset on our doorstep"

Local authorities across Scotland must make use of the estimated 40,000 empty homes as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans in the face of an affordable housing shortage.

That’s according to the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) – run by charity Shelter Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government – which brought nearly 1,500 empty homes back into use over the past year.

They say making vacant homes available would also help rejuvenate town centres and boost communities at a time of increased poverty.

The SEHP has recovered 5,756 properties in the decade since it was established, with nearly 45 per cent of those brought back into use in the last two years across 21 local authorities.

Empty homes are an asset on our doorstep

But that momentum could be lost if councils don’t put a focus on making homes which are vacant long-term suitable for living in again as they draw up plans to rebuild after the pandemic.

Shaheena Din, national manager for the partnership, said she was “delighted” with the progress made by the project.

She added: “The partnership has demonstrated that, with the right support, long term empty homes can be brought back into use and can play a key role in helping to meet the demand for housing in areas where there is a shortfall in affordable housing, and in reviving town centres and sustaining fragile communities.

“This is great news at a time when the housing market faces significant challenges as a result of COVID-19 and its economic impact. Empty homes are an asset on our doorstep.”

Meanwhile the latest Government figures show that across England there were nearly 226,000 homes left vacant for at least six months in October of last year – around nine in every 1,000 properties and a rise for the third year in a row.

Abigail Gill, senior policy and research manager at Centrepoint, said those figures are hitting young people particularly hard.

She said: “The increasing number of long-term empty properties are a reminder of how unbalanced the housing market is and underline how difficult it can be for young people trying to find somewhere safe and affordable to live.

“It is heart-breaking that more and more houses are standing empty when we continue to see young people struggling to move on from hostels and access long term accommodation.

“This not only has a huge impact on their ability to focus on getting into work and achieving their potential, but it also means that we cannot house the next group of young people who need our support.

“As we enter the next phase of the pandemic and restrictions begin to ease, we urge the Government to work with charities and local councils to address the underlying problems behind the housing crisis.”

The empty homes crisis across the UK has been a focus of The Big Issue for many years — that’s why we launched the Fill ‘Em Up campaign back in 2015.