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A wasted resource

Community-led approaches could be the answer to maximising empty homes, says Amy McMurray.

A major issue highlighted during the pandemic and linked to addressing homelessness has been the persistent presence of empty homes. A recent inquiry into empty homes by the Equality Local Government and Communities Committee suggests there are 28.400 empty homes in Wales. The urgent need for safe and decent homes for everyone amplifies what a valuable, yet, wasted resource empty homes currently are.

More recently, Tyfu Tai Cymru supported Amy McMurray, Anthony Morgans, and Emma Parcell, who are third-year BSc Housing Students at Cardiff Metropolitan University to research the role of community-led solutions in addressing empty homes.

The research draws on real-life experiences from housing professionals working to tackle the blight of empty homes. It shows that despite a range of good practices emerging, the tools currently used at the disposal of local authorities have had little success in reducing the overall number of empty homes in Wales.

The report shows that housing professionals are very keen to adopt community-led approaches, but many barriers including workload pressures, staff time, lack of funding options, and expertise as well as the further barrier of Covid-19 prevent this in practice.

The importance of working with community groups to understand their priorities is highlighted as crucial to the success of tackling empty homes based on the links with community regeneration. A key finding is that empty homes could help provide much-needed permanent accommodation during the pandemic whilst rebuilding communities, providing employment opportunities, enhancing skills, and ensuring better energy efficiency to help reach decarbonisation goals.

The report recommends that Welsh Government should

  • emphasise community-led approaches as a strand within its forthcoming National Empty Homes Action Plan, detailing the resources available to help grow the approach
  • commission and roll out training available to all staff focusing on bringing empty homes back to use
  • host a seminar each year focusing on sharing the learning from projects that have used community-led approaches to bring empty homes back into use

And local authorities should:

  • publish their empty homes strategy detailing activities aimed at increasing the use of community-led approaches
  • develop a common framework for reviewing and improving how opportunities for communities to take action in partnership to address empty homes are communicated locally.

The report’s recommendations offer opportunities for local authorities to develop skills on community-led approaches and to implement these as a key feature in addressing empty homes whilst supporting some earlier recommendations made by the Senedd’s Equality Local Government and Communities Committee report on empty properties.

Amy McMurry is a final year Housing Studies student at Cardiff Metropolitan University who is on placement at CIH Cymru

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