Empty homes targeted by Cheltenham Borough Council in bid to raise cash, tackle housing crisis
A CRACKDOWN on vacant homes is set to commence in Cheltenham in a bid to fix the town's 'absurd' housing crisis.
There are currently more than 340 privately owned homes which have been left empty long term and Borough Council bosses have decided enough is enough.
They have agreed to bolster their enforcement team so that officers have the chance to go after absentee landlords whose run down properties are blighting communities and denying people a place to live.
Cheltenham Borough Council hopes its investment in staff in the next three years will lead to a further 23 homes being brought back into use every year.
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Boosting the workforce will help free up time to enable experienced professionals to tackle the longest term and most problematic vacant properties, especially in cases where owners cannot be traced, refuse to bring their properties back into use or say no to selling up.
In such cases the council will threaten landlords with enforced sale or compulsory purchase orders to force their hand.
According to the Council there is a constant stream of homes becoming classed as long term empty every year and many of the most problematic cases have 'stood empty for far too long'.
In a borough struggling to find homes for everyone who wants to live here, bringing as many homes as possible back into use is deemed to be an important goal.
However, the authority also has a financial motive for pursuing the properties with increased vigour, as Councillor John Rawson (LD, St Peters), cabinet member for finance, explains.
"It obviously makes sense to bring empty homes back into use for its own sake. It is absurd to be building more homes than we need while existing homes are standing empty.
"There is also a big financial advantage to the Council in getting empty homes brought back into use. By doing so, we qualify for the Government's New Homes Bonus on each property. This is worth around £12,000 per property over six years. So if we can reach our target of bringing 23 more empty houses a year back into use, that is worth around £276,000 to us – vastly more than the £30,000 it is costing us.
"We are losing £423,000 in Government grant this year due to national budget cuts, so anything we can do to claw back some of that money from the grasping hands of the Treasury is well worth doing."
The Council will spend £30,000 in each of the next three years on a new fixed-term enforcement post as well as making other changes – even the creation of one new job will have a major impact though.
The Council's current work brings an estimated 100 homes back into use every year.