A lifetime of empty homes are being brought back into use as a unique project gains momentum in Preston.
Houses, with a combined total of more than 70 years abandoned as vacant buildings, are now lived in or being renovated so that they can be a roof over the heads of some of the most vulnerable people in the city.
And as of yesterday, thanks to a second wad of £400,000 funding, a pilot scheme brought into motion a year ago is set to roll on.
Coun Peter Moss, cabinet member of planning and regulation at Preston City Council, presented proposals to fund the scheme with another round of £400k cash before members on Thursday.
Outlining the benefits of the project ahead of the meeting, he said: “Empty homes can be a blight on the local scene and for the local community.
“It’s about bringing these empty homes back into use. We are lifting up the area.
“It also means the council will be able to decide who goes into these empty properties so we can house some of our more vulnerable people who are in desperate need of housing.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s just a really good way of bringing empty homes back into use.”
The funds committed to the scheme by the council are taken from a special pot of financial contributions from housing developers in lieu of the provision of affordable housing.
This vote means that the additional £400k would be phased with £200k committed in 2019/2020 and the second £200k delivered in 2020/2021.
The original funding of £400k, promised in April 2018, saw the Community Gateway Association (CGA) being brought on board 12 months ago to bring between 20 and 30 buildings back into use over a two-year time frame.
However, within the first 10 months of the scheme being up and running the CGA has purchased 13 properties with another six in the wings, thereby seeing the majority of the £400k funding already committed. It surpasses the initial target of 12 homes bought within the first year.
According to council documents: “The fact that the budget has been almost fully committed so quickly demonstrates the success of the project and in particular the delivery model which has been developed and the potential for it to achieve even better results.
“To that end, both the council and CGA are keen to continue using the model to bring empty properties back into use.”
Of the homes bought, four are now occupied and the remainder are in various stages of refurbishment.
Once complete, all the homes will be let at affordable rents to people on a waiting list which is more than 1,000-strong. People will be nominated for the accommodation by the Council’s
Housing Advice service, with those who are homeless or at risk of becoming so, prioritised.
The report before councillors on Thursday stated: “The Council’s Empty Homes team are currently assessing a number of other properties for further inclusion, should funding be available.
“The scheme is therefore becoming well established and is gaining in momentum.
“The original pilot is deemed to have been very successful and both CGA and the Empty Homes team see the potential for more properties to be brought back in to use and made available at affordable rents well into the future through this partnership.”
The report also states: “The project represents very good value for money.
“At an average of £20k per property, the council’s contribution represents only a proportion of the total cost of each property.
“Homes England are also providing a similar grant to each property.
“The purchase costs and the balance of the renovation costs, which are much higher than the council’s contribution, are met by CGA.”
Empty homes officer Stephen Bennett said: “For owners of empty properties it benefits them. It gives them a chance to sell their home or lease it.
“People might have inherited it or own it and they might not know quite what to do with it.
“They might not have the capacity to renovate it.
“It’s a means of getting it back into use.”
Stephen says that owners of homes which are left empty can be charged up to double their Council Tax if their homes have been empty for two years or more. In the longer term they may even face enforcement action.
Eirian Molloy, environmental health manager, added: “It’s a great opportunity for people as it's an easy way out. This scheme is quite straightforward. It’s a quick and simple process.
"People bury their heads in the sand sometimes and this is a way of helping them.”
To find out more about the project go to preston.gov.uk/emptyhomes