Outcry as vacant properties double despite Capital housing crisis

Anne Edmonds lives next door to a house that has been empty for five years. Picture: Jon Savage

Anne Edmonds lives next door to a house that has been empty for five years. Picture: Jon Savage

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Owners of nearly 5000 empty homes are being urged to help ease pressure on the Capital’s growing housing crisis.

More than 25,000 houses need to be built over the next ten years in Edinburgh and with 4997 lying unoccupied, the city is lagging behind other areas in tackling the issue of empty homes.

The figure has more than doubled in recent years – with critics blaming the axing of a dedicated officer tasked with tackling the issue.

In 2016 there were 2669 long-term empty properties in Glasgow, 1503 in Dundee and 1343 in Perth & Kinross.

One Edinburgh council insider said one of the main reasons the figure in the city was so high was rich investors buying up properties to sell when the market peaks. Relatives unwilling or unable to sell inherited properties is also behind the spike.

The source said: “With property values in Edinburgh increasing from £5000-£10,000 a year, owners who have inherited houses or bought as an investment leave the properties empty to accumulate in value without the hassle of renting.

“It is one of the ironies of the hot-housing environment. Property increases in value so much in locations like Edinburgh that it almost perversely encourages people to leave property empty.”

Green councillor Steve Burgess said owners faced barriers that prevented them from selling or renting the properties.

He said: “Many people struggle to bring property back into use. Expensive repairs and emotional ties can cause homes to become long-term empty.

“These barriers can be 
difficult to overcome without direct help and we really need somebody dedicated on the case in Edinburgh.”

The council launched an Empty Homes Pilot Project in February 2015, which saw a designated empty homes officer appointed to help owners bring vacant properties back into use.

But Cllr Burgess said: “They were moved off the post last year. What we know from other councils is that it’s the one-to-one relationship between reluctant owners and a council officer that shifts the properties.”

Anne Edmonds, 83, has been living next to an empty house in the Shaftesbury colonies in Shandon for five years and said there is also an impact on a neighbourhood.

She said: “There was a fire in the house in 2011 and it is still empty. The garden is overgrown and the house unsightly. It is just not good enough.”

Council housing leader Cllr Joan Griffiths said: “The number of empty homes in Edinburgh accounts for 3.1 per cent of the overall homes in the city, the same as the Scottish average, however it is estimated that over a quarter of these relate to homes that have been empty for less than six months.

“Since February 2015, 36 empty homes have been brought back into use.”

fiona.pringle@jpress.co.uk