Published: 10:14, 16 August 2019
| Updated: 10:19, 16 August 2019
A 10% drop in the number of empty homes in the Dover district has been recorded.
Action on Empty Homes has revealed the number of vacant properties in Dover, Deal and Sandwich dropped from 523 in 2017 to 471 in 2018.
It follows a dedicated plan of action by district council leader Keith Morris who took on the role from Paul Watkins in November 2017.
VIDEO: Scroll down to see how the council has transformed empty properties
Thanks to the cross party Policy Action Group he set up to tackle homelessness, a total 200 homes are being added to the district council’s social housing stock in new builds, modular housing and renovating derelict premises.
But the drop in Dover is part of a wider picture where a total of 6,172 residential properties across Kent have no one living in them - 7% more than the 5,764 in 2017.
And yet 4,723 people are either living in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough in the county.
These homes are worth an estimated £1.8 billion, based on the average house price in Kent last year.
With a total of 785,469 residential properties, 0.79% left unoccupied.
Kent’s 7% increase is above the national 5% hike.
Medway has the highest number of unoccupied houses and flats, at 1,144.
At the other end of the scale, there are just 250 empty homes in Gravesham - the lowest number in Kent.
Dover is among five of Kent’s 13 districts to have seen a decline in the number of unoccupied homes.
The rest include Folkestone and Hythe, Tunbridge Wells, Gravesham and Tonbridge and Malling. In terms of the proportion of homes which are empty, Thanet comes out top. A total of 781 residential properties are unused in the district, out of 67,236 homes, which equates to 1.16%. Dartford has the smallest proportion at 0.55%.
Action on Empty Homes campaign manager Chris Bailey said more than 90% of empty properties are privately owned, but have been left unoccupied for a number of reasons.
He said: “We have seen a rise in the number of empty homes across the country for the last two years - it’s a significant national trend with an overall slowing in the housing market since 2016.
“Properties in the lowest council tax band are most likely to be empty but also, more surprisingly, those in the top band.
“Many of these more expensive properties are bought as an investment instead of to live in. Lower value houses might be unoccupied because they are bought cheap at auction and there is a relatively low incentive to bring them into use quickly.
“Kent is quite active in supporting both individuals and property developers to bring homes back into use.
“No Use Empty offers a loan scheme and other types of support. In general we see more empty homes in areas of industrial decline or coastal communities, which Kent has many of. The number of empty homes we have is striking, especially when you have large numbers of people who are homeless.
“Clearly this is something of a national housing scandal. But it is about how you use the assets to solve the problem.
“Some councils offer grants so people will bring empty homes into use and allow the council to rent them out to those in need. We need a national government scheme so this can happen more.”
Action on Empty Homes is a national charity which campaigns for investment to make sure more disused properties are brought back into use.
The organisation works with local authorities and other companies to achieve this.
When Cllr Keith Morris took over as leader of Dover District Council in November 2017, homelessness was a top priority.
Not just street sleepers - reducing the number of families in temporary B&B accommodation was also his target.
He created the cross-party Policy Action Group which provides the council with a fresh focus and presents findings to the cabinet member responsible for housing - formerly Pauline Beresford, now Sue Chandler.
“It showed the whole council how serious we are about the issue and how everything feeds into it,” he said.
They consulted with other councils and schemes like Kent’s No Use Empty project. Ties were also strengthened with Dover Outreach Centre, bringing “a real head of steam,” he said.
DDC, like other councils, bought property for renovation like three derelict buildings in Dover’s Folkestone Road. These were structurally and decoratively poor when purchased in 2015 but now they are nine nicely turned out dwellings in use by families and individuals.
Meanwhile eight to nine homes are being bought off plan at Capel, more properties are set for renovation and modular homes are planned for two sites in Dover and one in Deal.
“The last time I looked, around 200 homes have been added to our social housing stock including the William Muge and Snelgrove ones - derelict properties which we own that are going through planning and are going to turn around 60 homes. Some are for sale, some we are using for council houses, the ones we sell will help us to build more council houses.”
DDC’s focus on homelessness is not new, but it has a vigour not seen in a while. He added: “The council has always had the care of its residents at its heart, it’s just I have gone more into it. There is a housing crisis. The world knows that. This is one of the ways we tackle it.
“I’m very keen on the council building more council houses - we haven’t built council houses for a very long time
“I’m not leaving any stone unturned,” he said.