The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated the urgent need for safe and decent homes for everyone, amplifying the fact that the estimated 28,400 long-term homes lying empty in Wales are a wasted resource.
That’s according to a new report issued by Cardiff Metropolitan University, Tyfu Tai Cymru (part of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru), and the Wales Co-operative Centre, who are calling for a greater focus on community-led approaches to addressing empty homes.
They say vacant properties are a blight for communities and lead to an increased risk of anti-social behaviour and pest infestations.
The report identified that the current approaches used by local authorities of enforcement action, targeted finding, and council tax incentives have some impact, but that there is support among local authorities for a greater focus on community-led approaches as a further answer to the problem of empty homes.
The report also recognises challenges to adopting community-led solutions including staff time, workload pressures, lack of expertise, and funding options.
Local authorities further highlighted that COVID-19 is creating another barrier to addressing the issue.
To enable local authorities to use community-led approaches as a regular part of their activity, the report makes the following recommendations:
- Welsh government to place an emphasis on community-led approaches as a strand within its forthcoming National Empty Homes Action Plan, detailing the resources available to help grow the approach
- Local authorities to publish their empty homes strategy detailing activities aimed at increasing use of community-led approaches
- Welsh government to commission and roll-out training available to all staff focusing on empty homes back into use
- Welsh government to host a seminar each year focusing on sharing the learning from projects that have used community-led approaches to bring empty homes back into use
- Local authorities to develop a common framework for reviewing and improving how opportunities for communities to take action in partnership to address empty homes are communicated locally
Commenting on the report, the research team – comprising Amy Mcmurray, Anthony Morgans, and Emma Parcell, who are final-year Housing Studies students at Cardiff Metropolitan University – said: “This work draws on the real-life experiences from professionals working at the heart of tackling the blight of empty homes.
“It shows that there is a real appetite from housing professionals to use community-led approaches, but barriers in terms of time, resources and expertise hamper this in practice.
“We urge the Welsh government and local authorities to act on the recommendations of the research, positively progressing the opportunities for community-led approaches to become a common-feature of how the sector collectively addresses this issue.”
‘Power of community’
Reflecting on the report, Tyfu Tai Cymru manager Catherine May, said: “We are grateful to the students at Cardiff Metropolitan University for this detailed report setting out the opportunities for widespread implementation of community-led solutions to the blight of long-term empty properties.
“We view this report as further information in support of the recommendations made by the Senedd equality, local government and communities committee earlier this year.
“This year we have been told to stay at home to keep everyone safe, but we know for people experiencing homelessness many have still not found a long-term solution.
“At the same time, we have 27,000 empty homes in the private sector and 1,400 in the social rented sector.
“Involving local communities in the repurposing of these properties will support ending homelessness at the same time as improving communities.”
Jocelle Lovell, director of Inclusive Communities at the Wales Co-operative Centre, added: “We welcome this report and its recommendations highlighting the opportunities to use community-led approaches to bringing empty homes back into use.
“Community-led approaches cannot only provide much needed affordable homes but can also bring further benefits in terms of skills training [and] providing community facilities and wider community regeneration initiatives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of home and power of community, and we must grasp this opportunity and let communities take the lead in deciding what happens in their neighbourhoods.
“We encourage all local authorities across Wales to consider community-led approaches to tackling empty homes and would be happy to discuss how we can support and enable this to happen.”
Image credit: Deatonphotos/Shutterstock
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