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Fraser and Fraser is delighted to be one of the sponsors of this year’s Empty Homes Network (EHN) Conference, in its first virtual format on Thursday 27th May.
Ahead of the event, we spoke to the Empty Homes Network’s Policy Lead and Secretary, Adam Cliff, to learn more about what EHN does, what 2021 looks like in empty homes planning and what the virtual conference will consist of.
Tell us about the work of the EHN, and your role there
“EHN is a membership community for people who work and deal with empty homes on a day to day basis. I would say 99% of our membership are local authority staff – anyone with a day to day interest in working with empty homes and bringing them back to use.
“We share best practice, ideas and information that will empower people to do their jobs. Empty homes officers tend to work on their own, not in teams, and because we’re not a statutory service, councils can limit their resources when it comes to empty homes. Empty homes officers often work singly or split their time between empty housing, and say, environmental health or housing.
“Our online community is there to support these people. I love the thought that someone working in Kent can share an idea with someone working in Carlisle, and help them do their job a little better. That’s a real motivator.”
What classifies an empty home? Who makes that classification?
“If a property hasn’t been lived in for six months or more, it’s classified as an empty home. Most of the time the property owner will inform the council, as most councils used to offer a discount for council tax, so owners were incentivised to report. Not any more, but most people don’t realise that.
“Probate is also an important part of the landscape, as next of kin will often report empty properties to the council.”
What problems are associated with empty homes?
“Initially, it will be an appearance issue, when the maintenance of the property is not kept up. Gardens may become overgrown and unkempt.
“The Broken Window Theory is a powerful psychological concept that comes into play quickly when a property lies empty. It was coined in 1982 by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling, (based on earlier research by Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo) and argues that no matter how rich or poor a neighbourhood, one broken window would soon lead to many more windows being broken.
“A broken window can act as a sign of visual disorder that communicates no one cares about the property or even the area.
“This can quickly lead the property and surrounding area into a spiral of dereliction.”
How do these problems impact the communities around them?
“Derelict homes act as a lightning rod for antisocial behaviour. One derelict house can attract drug use, vandalism and crime, such as the theft of copper pipes and boilers.
“However, the biggest impact is around the value of adjoining houses. An empty property can lead to drops of up to 30% of a neighbouring property’s value.
“These issues can reduce inward investment, put off buyers, affect house prices and the ability to sell neighbouring properties.”
Why are empty homes such a pain point for councils?
“The problems associated with empty homes reflect focus onto other areas, such as economic development and attracting investment into their regions. Rising levels of empty properties, but also of homelessness pose a difficult conundrum to local authorities.
“Councils are under pressure to innovate and explore purchasing empty homes and use them for homeless people. Newspapers and councillors often put the concepts of empty homes and homelessness together, but it’s difficult for councils to act, as many empty homes are privately owned.
“However, if a local authority needs 1000 houses, and they have 1000 empty homes, existing empty houses are cheaper to refurbish and buy, plus are more energy efficient and green, than radical new build projects on greenfield sites.”
What is EHN’s vision for 2021?
“We want to increase our membership and launch new training and consultancy services to continue with our mission of supporting empty homes officers across the country.
“We’re also proposing to conduct some detailed research into recently released statistics for empty homes stats nationally that show a huge increase, to understand why the numbers are going up, and to understand what’s happening nationally, but also at local levels so we can tailor our support and services to meet the needs of all local authorities.”
27th May 2021 for the Virtual Conference
Information, Innovation and Inspiration
For the first time, the EHN’s annual conference will be a virtual event, also marking the organisation’s 20th anniversary.
Journalist and Broadcaster Matt Allwright will be the guest speaker, and sessions will include ways in which to use different enforcement powers, the Bona Vacantia Division and Building successful CPO programme, as well as access to dedicated sponsors, with live chats and Zoom meetings.
With delegate prices starting from as little as £39 for not-for-profit organisations, corporate members will benefit from a discounted delegate rate (£49), as well as receiving one free delegate place for every two tickets purchased.