HOUSING: Council strategy to bring at least 100 empty homes back into use

SNP councillors Caroline McAllister and Diane Docherty – getting empties back into use. Top picture by Sean Davenport

By Lauren Crooks

An updated Council strategy will bring at least 100 empty homes across West Dunbartonshire back into use.

The four-year Empty Homes Strategy 2021-24  has been designed to assist with housing waiting lists,  to help alleviate homelessness, support town centre regeneration and ensure a reduction in problems caused by empty properties.

It follows a previous successful plan implemented by the Council’s Housing service, which saw the number of homes being empty for more than six months reduce from 439 in 2019, to 352 in 2020.

To continue the downward trend, the Council’s Empty Homes Officer identifies empty properties through various sources including council tax records.

Owners are then provided with advice and information on various options available to them, as well as given financial and practical assistance.

The Empty Homes Strategy 2021-24 was discussed at a recent meeting of the Housing and Communities committee, where elected members approved the target to bring a minimum of 25 empty homes back into use every year in West Dunbartonshire.

Members were also told of ongoing plans from the Scottish Government to introduce compulsory sale orders for vacant homes, which the Empty Homes Officer could use as an additional tool when all other means of engaging with the owner is exhausted.

Councillor Diane Docherty, Convener of Housing and Communities, said: “Renovating empty homes is so important because it helps local economies. As we know, Covid-19 has severely affected local businesses and retailers working in building and construction.

“When an empty home is being renovated or repaired, local builders and contractors are likely to be hired, who in turn purchase materials from local suppliers. With Scottish Government figures showing that every £1 spent on renovating property in Scotland generates an additional £1.60 for the economy,  this is an important task which will benefit the whole of West Dunbartonshire.”

Councillor Caroline McAllister, Vice Convener of the Committee, added: “I am so pleased so see the progress being made to bring these empty properties back into use, and our plans to expand on these for the benefit of our communities. Not only will this help with homelessness and waiting lists, but it will also support the regeneration of our town centres.”

Deprived Brucehill in Dumbarton where there a number of empty properties.

Meanwhile, reports Rory Murphy, the Council is undertaking initiatives in an effort to ensure tenants are as involved as possible in decision making.

In the past four years, the council claims that a number of enhancements have been made to ensure tenants can be actively involved in Housing decisions that affect them.

These include establishing West Dunbartonshire Scrutiny Panel who monitor Housing services performance, and ensure there is a person-centred approach to improving performance; running a joint rent group made up of tenant volunteers, Housing employees and the Housing Convener to ensure transparency about spending of the Housing Revenue Account and holding annual rent-setting consultations to get feedback on rent payments.

In addition, the Housing service communicates valuable community information through Tenants and Residents Associations (TRAs), the Interested Tenants Register, the Sheltered Housing Forum, the Scrutiny Panel and a tenants social media page.

A recent survey on tenant participation also showed that  73.9% of tenants believed the culture and practice of involving tenants had improved.

The successes were highlighted in a report to the Housing and Communities committee after which elected members approved an updated tenant participation strategy.

Involving You, the Council’s Tenant Participation Strategy for 2021-2024, aims to improve tenant participation even further by enhancing feedback to tenants, continuing to encourage involvement of under-represented groups including young people, homeless people and minority ethnic groups, and promoting the personal benefits to tenants of participating in decision-making processes.

The report also details how  tenants can be involved in tenant participation in West Dunbartonshire, as well as providing information on resources available and support required for effective tenant participation.

Councillor Docherty said: “Our tenants are at the heart of everything we do, and the decisions being made involve them, so it’s only right that we give them every opportunity to be involved in the process. Their input has been invaluable in a number of recent decisions, and I am grateful to those who give up their own time to be part of that.

“This updated strategy will build on the success we have already seen.”

Councillor McAllister added: “As the report shows, our previous strategy to ensure tenants were more involved has been hugely successful, but we won’t stop there. We continue to be committed to delivering positive outcomes for our tenants and wider communities and we will keep working to ensure tenants are involved every step of the way.”

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