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KCC backs call for national strategy on empty homes

empty homes

KCC is backing proposals from the campaign group Action on Empty Homes for a new nationwide strategy to deliver additional housing for those in most need, utilising properties currently left vacant or in need of renovation.

Among suggestions, launched as part of Empty Homes Week, are a national fund to support councils in bringing tens of thousands of long-term empty homes back into use through a locally focused programme of grants and loans.

KCC’s own “No Use Empty” initiative is already held up as an example of a successful scheme, having on average brought back into use 511 long-term empty dwellings each year over the last five years, with successful projects in all 12 Kent districts.

Chris Bailey: “No Use Empty is an excellent example of what can be done.”

Chris Bailey, Campaign Manager at Action on Empty Homes, said: “The work of No Use Empty in Kent has brought literally thousands of empty homes back to use and is an excellent example of what can be done with real local commitment of energy and resources.

“In Empty Homes Week 2021 we are calling for Government to offer councils new powers and investment so that more great work like this can flourish in all areas of England.”

Will McMahon, Director of Action on Empty Homes, said: “No Use Empty has done great work in Kent bringing thousands of empty homes back to use and supporting the local businesses and charities who make this work happen, but as Kent’s own councillors have said, with more Government support to match-fund initiatives like this, more could be done.

“With our national housing crisis worsening every year we simply cannot afford to see numbers of empty homes going up year after year. Government needs to act so that local initiatives like this can flourish everywhere and so they can bring more empty homes back to use urgently.”

Mike Whiting – supporting the call for a national strategy

Mike Whiting, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, has written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, offering to meet with his officials to discuss how the Kent scheme could be scaled up across the country.

NUE was set up in 2005 and went countywide four years later. It has to date provided loans to the value of £37.4million leveraging £32million in private sector funds to give a total investment of £70.4million. A total of 2,555 properties have been brought back into use over the past five years.

In the past year a record total of 42 loans with a value of £4.1million have been approved. Taking into account private sector leverage of £1.8million, which also supports individual projects, the total investment for this year is £5.9million to bring long-term empty homes back into use, providing much-needed residential accommodation across the county.

Mr Whiting said: “Our No Use Empty scheme has proved to be an invaluable resource to help bring homes back into use and help tackle the housing shortage.

“I am happy to support the Action of Empty Homes initiative in calling for a new nationwide strategy and, as I said in my letter to the Secretary of State, we would be delighted to share our experience with his team so that what we have learned over the past few years can be of benefit to the country as a whole.”

The table below records all loans since 2005 awarded to date

District Loan

 £

Leverage

 £

Total

£

% Total
Dover                       9,784,310                      7,669,385                17,453,695 25%
Thanet                     11,065,500                    12,010,491                23,075,991 33%
Folkestone & Hythe                       9,617,227                      3,059,432                12,676,659 18%
Dartford                          651,000                         710,616                  1,361,616 2%
Sevenoaks                          604,000                      1,163,530                  1,767,530 3%
Swale                       2,050,500                      2,194,909                  4,245,409 6%
Tonbridge & Malling                          370,000                        483,249                     853,249 1%
Tunbridge Wells                          727,156                         598,298                  1,325,454 2%
Gravesham                          150,000                           57,806                     207,806 < 1%
Canterbury                          650,000                      3,932,849                  4,582,849 7%
Maidstone                       1,270,000                         922,555                  2,192,555 3%

The Roma Capital Group has used a loan from the No Use Empty scheme to facilitate the renovation of three properties in Folkestone – two in Bouverie Square and the other in Cheriton Road.

Director Zach Maasbach said: “We worked with KCC and utilised their No Use Empty scheme to convert and refurbish two empty and unused office buildings into a total of 10 apartments.

“These apartments were all let within a week of completion and are now providing a quality home for the tenants within walking distance to places of work and transport hubs in the town.”

The Cheriton Road property was previously operated as a guest house. However, it had been shut and vacated for some time with numerous break-ins and a severe damp issue in the basement.

Through the use of KCC’s No Use Empty scheme, Roma were able to convert this property into four residential apartments.

OGI Properties, run by Matthew and Raweerat Ogilvie, have worked with KCC’s No Use Empty scheme over the last two years and are in the process of completing their second project in Dover with the scheme.

The first project consisted of two empty maisonettes above a large empty shop in the High Street. The maisonettes required some internal reconfiguration and full renovation, and after splitting the shop into two fully-renovated smaller commercial units, all four properties were let-out during the first COVID lockdown.

The maisonettes were rented to social housing tenants through Dover District Council, and the shops were rented to a European grocery store and a private gym/yoga centre.

The couple’s current project is another shop with three unused floors above, which they are converting into a one-bed flat and a two-bed maisonette.

Family Homes, a property management company based in Sittingbourne, has used the No Use Empty scheme to convert a disused church in Dover into nine apartments.

Director Sunil Popat said: “The No Use Empty scheme is providing support to local landlords and property investors in order to bring much-needed family homes back into use.

“It has allowed us to convert empty buildings into long-term affordable rental units, but without this funding these properties would have reminded unusable.

“It’s not only the funds from the NUE scheme which has ensured that these properties are turned into much needed accommodation but also the help, support and guidance from the officers at KCC who have wide knowledge and experience to ensure success for all.”

Among the projects under way in Thanet is the renovation of a property in Nash Lane, Margate by Estia Property Solutions.

Managing director Craig Sherwood said: “We first found out about the NUE loans from our networking group. The scheme works well for us as our core strategy is to bring disused property back to life to help supply much needed accommodation in our investment area.

“NUE has opened a valuable source of financing at a reasonable cost, to us small developers/ landlords, which has helped us to grow our business and deliver more quality homes, at affordable prices for the community we serve…which is a win, win in our book.”

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