Ahead of their involvement in the Scottish Housing and Build to Rent Conference we’ve been speaking to The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership’s National Project Manager – Shaheena Din…

Q. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership was set up to help bring 40,000 unoccupied homes back into use, how transformational could this be on the housing crisis and in the efforts to alleviate homelessness?

Empty homes are an asset on our doorstep and can provide an opportunity to local authorities to provide housing quicker and can be more cost effective than new build. However, we recognise that to alleviate the housing emergency, we need the right types of homes for people in the right places, so empty homes work can only ever be part of the solution.

Q. The organisation is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland, how did this come about and how does the organisation support the Scottish Government’s 100,000 affordable homes by 2032?

The SEHP was set up after the review of the private rented sector identified the role that empty homes can play to support council’s to meet their supply challenges. However, empty homes work goes beyond this and can support councils with

• Community Regeneration

• Sustaining fragile communities

•Town Centre Renewal

•Contributing to carbon emission reductions

The SEHP’s key aim  is to encourage these homes back into use and not necessarily for affordable supply, however we do encourage councils to view these as an opportunity and know that a number of councils run a successful “buy back” scheme where ex local authority empty properties are bought back by the council to increase affordable housing supply in already settled communities and at a fraction of the cost of new build.

Q. The partnership was established following a review into the private rental sector back in 2010, what have you achieved since then and what are your ambitions for the next decade?

There was very little empty homes work in 2010 but since then 22 out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities employ an officer to carry out empty homes work. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership has supported these officers to bring over 6,000 properties back into use many of which would still be lying empty without intervention. We want all councils to recognise the importance of bringing empty homes back into use, we want councils to take a strategic approach to empty homes work and have an action plan for any property that is their local authority area and that has been empty over 2 years.

Q. What are the key steps needed to restore Scotland’s long-term empty homes back into use?

We need legislative powers from Scottish Government including compulsory sale and compulsory letting orders. We need all councils to have a clear empty homes strategy and an empty homes officer to deliver this. We need to raise awareness with empty home owners of the advice and assistance available and we need councils to support this with a combination of grants and loans.

Q. What has been the greatest obstacles in restoring vacant homes to occupancy and how have you overcome these?

There are various challenges some to mention as below;

  • Untraceable owners or owners that will not engage
  • Homes that have fallen into severe disrepair
  • Homes that are the victim of market failure

These are not unsurmountable obstacles but need a focus from a dedicated officer and a wider strategic approach from the council

Q. How are you cooperating and building relationships across public bodies, social landlords and the supply chain?

Currently we work closely with Scotland’s local authorities but are interested in working closer with social landlords etc..

Q. What are you anticipating sharing at the Scottish Housing & Built to Rent event and how will the event help connect the partnership to the wider industry?

I am hoping to share the benefits of empty homes work as well as best practice examples, it is hoped that this will encourage others to see empty homes as a way to meet their supply challenges.