It’s Empty Homes Week so we asked Rob Greenland, co Director of Leeds Empties to tell us what it’s all about:
Leeds Empties was born in south Leeds. Our social enterprise, Social Business Brokers, shared an office on Dewsbury Road with Angels Housekeeping – and it was a walk one lunchtime that first got us interested in empty homes.
Our business aims to bring people together to come up with ways to tackle complex social problems. We were looking for an issue to focus on – and a walk around the streets near our office, where a number of homes were being demolished, got us asking some questions. Primarily – why are there empty homes when there’s so much housing need?
Over 100 people joined us at our Call To Action to explore the issue at Greenhouse in Beeston in May 2012. To cut a long story short, a few ideas emerged from that day – and a few months later we secured some funding to pilot some of them – including an Empty Homes Doctor service. After piloting the service, we secured a 12-month contract with Leeds City Council, starting in April 2013.
We work alongside the council’s empty homes team to support owners of empty properties to bring them back into use. There are around 5000 homes in Leeds that have been empty for six months or more – and 90% of those are privately owned. We work with the council to target particular owners – perhaps by postcode or length of time empty – and they write to them on our behalf. Owners then get in touch for help.
We meet people at their property, listen to what they want to achieve and find out what’s stopping them. We then produce a report outlining their options and some solutions which will enable them to bring their empty property back into use. We break down the steps they will need to take and can let them know about local businesses that have helped other empty home owners.. If they want us to, we’ll work closely alongside them at every stage of the process until the empty property is a home again.
But why are homes empty in the first place? There are all sorts of reasons. People sometimes inherit a home, and are unsure what to do – or aren’t ready emotionally to deal with a home that was perhaps the home they grew up in. In other cases people’s personal circumstances have changed – perhaps they’ve moved away from Leeds for work. And then there are people who’ve bought a home as an investment, and things haven’t worked out as planned. We’ve seen a number of cases where a home has fallen into disrepair – perhaps after problems with a previous tenant – and the owner doesn’t have the money to do the repairs. And if they’re in negative equity, they’re not in a position to sell.
Empty homes in Leeds are scattered across the city – but there are areas with more empties, including parts of south Leeds. Two of the top 5 council wards that we’ve worked in are in south Leeds – 20 of the 137 homes we’ve worked on were in Beeston and Holbeck ward, and six in Middleton Park ward.
Of the 137 homes we’ve worked on, 26 are now back in use – with 17 due to come back into use in the next couple of months. We’ve passed 20 cases back to the council – and are continuing to work on 70 other cases – whilst new owners approach us every week. One of the main things we’ve learnt this year is that it can take months for some homes to be brought back into use – particularly if the owner has financial issues.
Looking to the future, we’ve secured a second year’s contract with the council – and we’re confident that we can increase our targets significantly in terms of number of owners worked with, and homes brought back into use.
And of course we’re not the only people working on empty homes. South Leeds is well served by Canopy – who have years of experience of renovating empty homes – whilst Hunslet Club have recently set up a social enterprise to purchase and renovate empty properties. Hunslet Club are close to buying a home which has been empty for over 20 years.
If you know anyone who owns an empty home, please encourage them to get in touch with our Empty Homes Doctor.