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Meet West Dunbartonshire’s EHO Karen Rae

This year the network of Empty Homes Officers (EHOs) that SEHP supports reported 1257 homes back into use. This reflects their hard work and determination in working with owners and investigating empty properties to see them transformed into homes again.

Recently we sat down with West Dunbartonshire Council’s EHO Karen Rae to find out more about her work.

How long have you been an EHO:

I’ve been an Empty Homes Office for almost six years

Who do you work for?

I work for West Dunbartonshire Council

How long has your area had an empty homes service?

The empty homes service has been running in West Dunbartonshire Since 2012, so eleven years.

Why did you want to pursue a career in empty homes work?

I was really attracted to the job description when I read it. I’ve always been interested in housing and property and so the EHO job looked really interesting to me and was something different to what I was doing previously.

What were you doing before?

Previously, I worked in corporate debt, collecting money that was owed to the local authority. I also worked as housing officer.

What has been your most memorable case?

There have been so many but one that sticks in my mind was a daughter whose parents had both passed on. She didn’t live locally and hadn’t been back to the area since losing her mum and dad. Through talking with her, I managed to persuade her to put the house up for sale. We managed to get it sold quickly, which I was very proud of. She had also been reliant on foodbanks so getting her the money from the sale was very rewarding. After it went through, I received a call from her, thanking me for my work, which meant a great deal to me.

What do you enjoy most about empty homes work?

I really love working with people and hearing their stories. You get a lot of that in this job. I also feel great about making a difference in people’s lives. Plus, there are lot of opportunities to learn new things.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Getting owners to engage can sometimes be challenging. Often it’s difficult to find them and persuade them to engage, especially if there have been complaints from neighbours about their empty property.

What are your ambitions for empty homes in your area?

I’d like to see us get as many empty homes back into use as possible, e

specially as social housing, to help us give people needing homes as much choice as possible and to ensure neighbourhoods aren’t blighted by empty properties.

What are the top priorities for empty homes work in your area?

It would be great to get more larger accommodation back into use. At the moment, we have lots of two-bedroom properties available but more three- or four-bedroom homes would be brilliant.

What ‘big picture’ ideas or innovations do you think could help tackle empty homes in Scotland?

I think Empty Homes Officers would benefit from having more enforcement powers, like Compulsory Sale Order and Compulsory Rental Orders. Those would really help us.

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Patience is key. Sometimes empty homes work can be a long, drawn-out, process that includes building and developing relationships. There are no quick fixes.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time with my family and keeping fit

We are grateful to Karen for taking the time to share an insight into her role. If finding out more about an EHO’s work has sparked your interest we have a list of EHOs by local authority who can help with empty homes issues.