Empty Property Hotline
Filed under: Community Support & Services
Tackling Londons waste of space
At a time when soaring property prices are driving key workers from central London, and homelessness remains a conspicuous problem, more than 100,000 homes in the capital stand empty.
Londons Empty Property Hotline works to address this problem, and has already enabled more than 2,130 empty properties to be re-occupied, helping about 2,000 people in need of housing. It acts as a central point for the public to report empty buildings and for property-owners to gain advice on regeneration and re-occupation.
Disused property can become an expensive target for vandalism and crime. Publicly-owned homes left vacant, while the Council keeps families in Bed & Breakfast accommodation, can cost the taxpayer up to 25424310,000 each year.
In response to the lack of affordable accommodation, The Department of the Environment recommended in 1994 that Councils adopt Empty Property Strategies to make better use of existing housing stocks.
Twenty London Boroughs had implemented these strategies by 1997, a move welcomed by the Association of London Government (ALG). It called for the development of a London wide Empty Property Strategy tailored to the citys needs.
Following discussions with the ALG, the Housing Corporation (London) and Borough Housing Officers, the Empty Homes Agency (EHA) launched the Empty Homes Hotline in 1997. It was renamed the Empty Property Hotline in 2001.
How does the Hotline work?
The Hotline transcends borough boundaries, links authorities, raises awareness and promotes good practice.
It also provides support and advice for the owners of empty homes (most are private citizens, not professional landlords), and sifts through reports of empty homes, ensuring Boroughs use their scarce resources effectively.
Desmond Kilroy runs the Hotline during office hours from a well-equipped building in Victoria (thanks to victory in the Cannon ?250Better Offices?306 competition for small organisations).
?250When somebody reports an empty building, I first find out what borough the property is in. I then work with local authorities housing sections to find out who the owner is, and contact him or her to advise on what can be done to re-occupy the building. I inform them of everything from grants available for regeneration and refurbishment, to housing association leasing and rent guarantee schemes.?306
Desmond also runs the London Empty Property Forum for local authority officers, providing training days covering topics such as empty property strategies, funding, setting up a landlord forum and legislation.
The Hotline runs annual London Action Weeks, and has published Tackling Londons Empties: A Good Practice Guide in 2001. The booklet was a major step forward in raising awareness among local decision-makers.
Benefits of re-occupying property
The potential environmental, social and economic gains from reducing the number of empty properties include:
?330 waste from building new properties is reduced
?330 land earmarked for residential development can be protected or put to different use
?330 environmentally-friendly practices can be incorporated into renovated properties
?330 communities are empowered by becoming involved in renovations
?330 anti-social behaviour is deterred as derelict buildings are transformed
?330 prices stabilise as the supply of properties increases
?330 renovating flats above empty shops attracts tenants, who in turn can boost local economies and promote long-term inward investment.
Partnerships and funding
The Hotline relies on partnerships between several organisations to achieve these goals. Local authorities and Housing Associations have played a large role in returning derelict property to use on the Hotlines advice, and reflecting the needs of communities in the finished products. For example, a partnership with Newham Council project has led to the conversion of Bridgehouse Hotel into a mixed-use refugee centre.
The Housing Corporation provides core funding, with additional finance coming from donors, sponsors and Government.
Government agencies, including the Department of Environment, Transport & Regions and Greater London Authority (GLA), have played a part in providing funding, expertise and much needed exposure. The Hotline is currently working closely with the GLA on publicity and policy.
Corporate sponsorship also provides publicity and funding.
Though securing exposure is a major challenge for the project, it has already had coverage on television with the BBC and in print with the Big Issue and construction trade titles. High-profile supporters, including Glenda Jackson, have also helped to raise awareness.
Sharing good practice and innovative ideas is a priority going forward.
|London Empty Homes Hotline|
|195 -197 Victoria Street|