Local authorities across the country are increasingly recognising the role that empty homes can play in supporting wider housing and social policy goals, at a time when they are facing increased demand for housing and high inflation is limiting their ability to deliver this.
We want to see as many empty homes as possible brought back to use as social or affordable housing to help to tackle the housing emergency in Scotland. Bringing empty homes back to use can also support local authorities to meet their statutory duty to the prevent homelessness wherever possible, to mitigate the impact of homelessness where it cannot be prevented, and to increase provision of specialist housing units across categories such as wheelchair, amenity and sheltered accommodation. Where homes are brought back to use at market-based prices they can help to ease pressure on the housing market and reduce house price inflation by adding to housing supply.
As part of our continuing work to encourage local authorities to take a strategic approach to empty homes work and to mainstream empty homes work within the context of their wider housing strategy, we launched our Empty Homes Framework template and guidance at our 2023 annual conference in collaboration with housing specialists Arneil Johnston.
The guidance aims to raise awareness of the positive impact that tackling empty homes can have in helping achieve Local Housing Strategy and community planning priorities. It provides
a practical step by step guide to follow and should support local authorities looking to achieve a more strategic focus for empty homes work.
It is hoped that this framework will encourage councils to:
- Mainstream empty homes work which will in turn support Housing to 2040’s goal of an audit of empty homes
- Bring more homes back into use to increase affordable housing supply quickly and effectively as per Shelter Scotland’s strategic aim of more social housing
The guidance and template are the culmination of a project that began with two in-person and two digital Empty Homes Strategic Framework Development workshops in November 2022 and January 2023. The theme of the first workshop was ‘Understanding the challenges of Empty Homes’ and explored how empty homes work could contribute to helping local authorities deliver their local housing strategy priorities, and to tackling the challenges and threats to delivery they were facing. The workshop also looked at existing empty homes strategies to provide more information on what a good framework template may look like.
This fed into our second workshop ‘What works well and what would be useful’ where the focus was on how a framework should be structured, what information should be covered within it, and how to identify and engage with stakeholders to develop and deliver a framework.
Arneil Johnson then developed the template and guidance, drawing on the presentations given at the workshops and the invaluable feedback we received from delegates.
An eight step process for developing a strategic empty homes framework that recognises the important role that empty homes can play in Local Housing Strategy delivery and can help to increase social and affordable housing stock was presented at our Repair, Reuse, Revitalise, conference at the Engine Shed in Stirling.
Drawing on best practice examples, the step-by-step guide provides practical advice, support and examples which will enable local authorities to:
• Showcase the contribution of tackling empty homes to LHS and community planning outcomes,
• Define the main issues that need action, intervention and resource commitment,
• Consider the ideas, options and innovation that should guide action, investment & partnership, and
• Prioritise action and intervention across a network of engaged partners.
We have now held a further walk through of the template and guidance with empty homes officers from 5 local authorities, and the finalised versions of both documents will be published shortly.
We hope that the template and guidance will encourage more local authorities to commence work on a framework that recognises that empty homes are an asset on our doorstep that can play a vital role in delivery of housing and social policy as demonstrated by many of the case studies and projects contained in this report.