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Taking action on empty homes in Lewisham

To mark National Empty Homes Week 2021, Cllr Paul Bell, Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, highlights the importance of bringing empty homes back into use.

At a time when many families in Lewisham are struggling to find affordable homes in the borough, it’s unacceptable that so many properties are left empty by private landlords, instead of being put to good use. Given the acute shortage of affordable housing in London, we cannot accept long-term empty properties as the norm.

That’s why I’m so proud of the work we have been doing as a council to take action on empty homes.

As well as delivering new social homes for those most in need, we are working with owners of long-term empty properties to help bring much-needed homes back into use and taking enforcement action where necessary. Since 2018, we’ve helped bring nearly 400 empty properties in Lewisham back into use.

Lewisham Council has a dedicated Empty Homes officer who works to identify long-term empty properties (properties empty for more than six months) and helps get them back into use. We offer grants of up to £15,000 to property owners to help bring empty homes up to the decent homes standard, enabling them to be rented out and increasing the amount of good quality accommodation available to local residents.

Yesterday, as part of National Empty Homes Week, I met with a number of local residents and property owners to discuss the importance of taking action on empty homes.

I spoke with Ruby, who received an Empty Homes grant from the Council to bring a long-term empty property in Catford back into use. The works to repair the property were completed late last year and we were able to introduce a tenant in priority need who moved in just before Christmas.

I also heard from Stuart and Miran, two local residents who had been suffering with damp from a derelict industrial property next door to them. As well as depriving our communities of much needed housing, empty properties that are not properly maintained can cause problems for those who live nearby.

Fortunately, our Empty Homes officer has been able to work with Stuart and Miran to track down the owner of the empty property next door and serve them with a notice to carry out the necessary repair work. We’ll be making sure that the owner fulfils their legal obligations so that Stuart and Miran aren’t having to deal with damp in their homes.

Jeremiah had recently completed the development of a new hostel in Perry Vale for young people leaving care, replacing what was previously a long-term empty property. It was great to hear about this property being put to good use and providing high quality accommodation for care leavers, rather than sitting idle and offering nothing to the local community.

But while we continue to make good progress tackling empty homes in Lewisham, local authorities need more support from central government to take action.

Action on Empty Homes, a national campaigning charity, have called on the Government to adopt a new national empty homes strategy. In particular, they’ve argued that local councils need more funding and more powers to take action on empty homes.

Despite the hard work of local authorities like Lewisham Council, the number of empty homes in England reached a record high in 2020. Sadly, without more resources, councils are limited in what they can do to tackle this problem.

So this year, to mark National Empty Homes Week, I’m calling on the Government to step up and provide Lewisham with the funding and powers it needs to take further action on empty homes. That way, we can continue bringing empty properties back into use and help tackle the housing crisis.

Find out more about the grants available to help bring empty properties back into use.

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