MSP calls for empty homes in the Capital to go to homeless

Should empty homes be used to better use.
Should empty homes be used to better use.
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EMPTY homes in the Capital should be taken over and used to house homeless people, according to an MSP.

The call came as new figures on the number of empty and second homes across Edinburgh revealed a tale of two cities, with thousands of properties lying unoccupied while up to 120 people a night are sleeping rough or begging on the streets. A report by Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman said Edinburgh had the highest number of empty homes in Scotland at 7827 and the third highest number of second homes at 3215.

New MSP Greens'Andy Wightman

New MSP Greens'Andy Wightman

Properties could be empty for a variety of reasons – from a simple changeover between occupants to being bought by an investor with no intention to let.

But Mr Wightman argued that if a house had been empty for two years, councils should be able to compulsorily purchase it.

And with the Scottish Government’s new “housing first” policy to help homeless people by moving them quickly into permanent homes so they can build a more stable life, he was clear about how the newly acquired properties could be used.

He said: “Edinburgh has around 10,000 homes which are either empty or second homes. That’s a very high number and there is absolutely no doubt they could be put to better use.

“Given the Scottish Government’s ‘housing first’ approach it’s a no-brainer that instead of spending lots of money on new building, we could focus on getting these houses into use and using them for people who are homeless. It makes sense.”

The Evening News told last night how between 80 and 120 rough sleepers spend the night on the streets of the Capital and the council imposes no curfew on homeless people staying at its Rapid Access Accommodation scheme so they are still free to go out and beg.

Mr Wightman’s report recommended that councils should be given compulsory purchase powers to bring empty homes and vacant land into use.

“It should be ‘use it or lose it’,” he said.

He noted that in 2014, Edinburgh introduced a 100 per cent council surcharge on homes that are empty for more than 12 months.

Mr Wightman’s report also called for planning law to require people to apply for change of use for second homes.

And he said the Scottish Government should curb the tax loophole that allows owners of second homes to avoid paying council tax by listing their property as a business.

He said: “People are crying out for affordable housing, yet we have a total of over 100,000 empty and under-used second homes across the country. It’s incredulous that the proportion of empty homes is rising.

“The Scottish Government has long overlooked the issue of empty homes and there’s a risk that its response will be too little too late.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com