>Sir Bob Kerslake Interview on Empty Homescouncils, Homes and Communities Agency, housing associations, social housing
Could you tell me how the HCA are working to maximise the use of empty homes?
The first thing to say is that the empty homes scheme is a crucial part of our housing and regeneration strategy. The HCA have put a significant amount of funding into empty homes, in the region of 19 million pounds to refurbish over 550 empty homes.
We have also funded major estate transformations which allows us to tackle empty council houses on a much bigger scale.
Other examples of where our investment is used proactively in dealing with empty homes can be found in our investment provided for HMR Pathfinders that focuses on dealing with low demand and abandoned stock while Decent Homes funding helps to keep local authority stock well maintained and combats the stock becoming difficult to let.
Alongside the funding we give a lot of support to local authorities to become effective in tackling the issue of empty homes.
We are, through our skills and knowledge team, supporting programmes that share expertise with local authorities across the country.
In summary, tackling the problem of empty homes can be achieved by a combination of investment through our big programmes and sharing best practice and knowledge from local authorities who have managed to tackle the problem head on with success.
Do you believe there is a private/public partnership model which could be used to reinvigorate the market for empty homes?
I think there is potential to work with the private sector, but when you look at the problem with empty homes there are two key areas, one being the local authority side, which I must say has brought down the number of empty homes in recent years and the private rented sector.
The major problem here seems to be the owners who currently may own a small number of properties. The task is how you can work with the private owners more efficiently; this may mean selling of the houses to local authorities.
What challenges are Local Authorities facing when trying to tackle issues on empty homes?
Local Authorities are facing some tough challenges when it comes to dealing with empty homes. What you tend to find is that once the houses become empty they stay empty for some time, the challenge Authorities have is dealing with landlords who may not have the skills or financial capability of bringing the houses up to the standard they require.
We’re seeing a high concentration in the North West of empty homes, where supply outweighs demand. It can be labour intensive for authorities to get empty homes back into use, so we tend to target our funding into areas across the UK where we can see best value for investment at a quicker rate of supply.
What role does empty homes play in the HCA’s approach to housing and regeneration?
The role empty homes plays in the Homes and Communities Agency housing and regeneration plans is about supply. It is about making more houses available, though it is also about estate renewal and market renewal whilst tackling low demand or low stock. So we are bringing empty houses into stock, but also regenerating communities by removing abandoned and run down housing.
As part of the local investment planning process, we are working with local authorities and partners to support the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies to maximise the use of empty homes.
What progress is being made on Kickstart and how is the HCA dealing with less funding to support housing, especially affordable housing?
I have to say Kickstart has been positively received; with the first schemes now coming to completion. We have a few remaining schemes left to fund, however the biggest task is to see through the delivery of these schemes, but I am in no doubt Kickstart has stimulated the housing market across the UK.
How do you respond to the recent announcement by the NHF who say that up to 500,000 people will be added to the social housing waiting list if the government go ahead with their 40 per cent cuts into housing?
There is no question about the high level of demand for Housing, especially social housing. The challenge we now face at the HCA following our reduced funding is delivering the maximum amount of housing with a lot less funding. The only way this can be achieved is to find alternative and less costly ways of delivering affordable housing, we need to engage with housing associations, contractors and authorities more to ensure we deliver value for money for both the buyer and the delivery authority.