Bid to use private homes to ease housing crisis

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Empty homes would be brought back into use under plans to tackle the city’s housing shortage.

Growing numbers of homes are being left empty as their owners struggle to sell them in the sluggish housing market.

Under a new scheme homeowners unable to sell their second property will be urged to let them out through the council.

Those entering the scheme would see a return in rent on their empty home and ease the burden on the housing lists, council leaders said today.

The move comes after new data revealed the number of private homes lying empty for more than six months has soared in recent years.

In 2007 there were 900 empty homes. This figure had risen to nearly 1500 by December 2011. Nearly 1000 of these had been empty for more than a year.

Around 1900 people currently let out a private second home through the council but this will be the first time council chiefs have directly approached homeowners.

Until now they have not been able to contact those who own a second home because of legislation. However, recent changes in the Housing Scotland Act mean they can now encourage owners, identified through council tax forms, to bring their empty homes back to use.

Figures from 2011 listed 4500 families registered as homeless in Edinburgh. Around 25,000 more are on the EdIndex waiting list.

Mark Turley, director of the services for communities department at the council, told the housing committee: “The council commissions two services, Letfirst and Private Sector Leasing, which allow owners to let their property easily and provide homes for people in need.

“These services can help owners convert their empty homes for private rent, generating an income for the owner and providing additional homes that help meet the high demand in Edinburgh.”

The most common reasons for private homes lying empty for extended periods include a couple moving in together and not being able to sell the second home due to the depressed housing market, and a deceased family member leaving their home to their children which they cannot sell.

Rental costs for city properties currently stand at around £544 per month for one bedroom, £720 per month for two bedroom and £1008 per month for three-bedroom homes.

The council will offer rents below the market rate, but says it will manage the property, guarantee the payment of rent and the return of full deposit.

Councillor Paul Edie, the city’s housing leader, told the Evening News: “The economy in Edinburgh is so strong, compared to everywhere else, it’s a magnet for people coming here but we must be in a position to accommodate this demand.

“I would say to those who have an empty home, talk it over with us, because it could be an opportunity for you to generate income and help those struggling to find a home.”