The Autumn Budget introduced welcome new powers for local authorities to ‘tax’ empty homes - but this is likely to prove no more than ‘half a job’ and may not help England’s left behind communities, blighted by concentrations of empty homes.
In his first blog post Chris Bailey, Empty Homes’ Campaign Manager explains why:
Empty Homes welcomes the announcement in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget 2017 that English local authorities will be able to charge 100% council tax premium on empty homes. There is however a sense in which, welcome as this is, it is also a case of Government doing ‘half the job’ and we believe more should be done.
An empty homes policy which gives some punitive powers to local authorities meets a perceived need to ‘tax’ ‘buy to leave’ investment properties in high value ‘over-heated’ housing markets like London. Yet this is unlikely to be enough of a deterrent to very wealth investor buyers; nor does it tackle the issue of properties that, although not totally empty, are hardly ever used.
Moreover, in lower value areas, such punitive measures are unlikely to kick-start the process of returning property to use.
This is because such (low value) property often requires renovation to return to use.
Frequently it remains empty because of its owners’ lack of capital to invest in such renovation, coupled with the inadequate financial returns on offer, through either sale or rental, to underwrite borrowing which could fund repairs; or to incentivise its owners to dispose of it through sale.
Furthermore, these properties are often highly concentrated, some in areas with in excess of 10% of homes vacant.
Areas like this require stimulation and investment.
These are areas with much to offer but which are currently seen as undesirable, in some cases largely because of the prevalence of empty (‘tinned’, boarded-up, or derelict) properties.
Yet with refurbishment these homes could be in demand where ever they are found in the country.
Relatively small capital investments, or simply access to borrowing against these properties, could help invigorate such areas, if coupled with local action to tie such regeneration to local supply chains, training and jobs – creating a virtuous circle of social renewal and community re-investment.
Re-connecting left-behind communities to a wider economy that really could start to work for everyone.
This is about the social and economic potential of communities all over England.
It is an opportunity to turn forgotten places, neglected streets and unloved properties
into net contributors to society.
Such areas and under-utilised property assets are frequently seen mainly as a cost, by both local and national government – through benefit bills, poor health outcomes, crime and vandalism. But this need not be the case. They offer huge potential.
Community-based regeneration schemes deliver much more than homes, though these are desperately needed, they can help support a sense of community in an area, create meaningful jobs and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour and improving health and education outcomes.
They can only do this through collaborative action across police, public health, local authorities and engaged community organisations - taking responsibility and building solutions from the bottom up. But it all starts with ending the blight of empty property and the low standards in the surrounding property markets, particularly the private rental sector, which this exacerbates.
We need to turn this potential into delivery – we need to invest if we want our communities and our economy to reap the benefits of this huge, currently wasted, potential.
And it is time for some carrot, as well as some stick, because these communities have already been beaten enough; and when you’re on your knees, you need a hand up.
So that is what we are asking government for, community reinvestment in Britain’s left behind neighbourhoods – a hand up, not a hand out.
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