Tyne & Wear

Empty homes taken over by North East councils

Derelict house
Image caption In England 600,000 properties are unoccupied - 200,000 of those for longer than six months

A region with one of the highest proportions of empty homes in England has started refurbishing them to tackle a housing shortage.

More than 40,000 properties in the North East - 3.8% of the area's housing stock - are empty, compared with more than 600,000 nationally.

Twelve councils in the region have formed a group to reduce the number.

Empty Property Forum chair Susan Cousins said vacant homes were a "waste of a valuable resource".

"We work with the owners to find out why the house is empty and provide the advice and support they need to bring their property back into use," she said.

"But, if we can't find an owner, or if they refuse to talk to us, we will consider taking enforcement action."

'Negative influence'

Properties have been left empty because of negative equity, unaffordable repairs, inheritance and a growing private rented sector, the council said.

More than 200,000 homes in England - and 20,00 in the North East - have been unoccupied for longer than six months.

Northumberland County Council cabinet member for housing, Allan Hepple, said this could have "a negative influence on the sustainability of an area".

Thirty privately rented homes that have been empty for two years or more will be repaired using a £750,000 government grant, the council said.

They will be chosen according to cost of repair, housing need and the impact of them remaining empty.

Some will be bought and rented out by the council.

It will take over further properties - either with or without the owners' consent- by using empty dwelling management orders.

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