Sunderland tackles empty private homes

Sunderland City Council launches new scheme that will allow it to lease privately owned properties and offer them for affordable rent.
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Sunderland City Council is stepping up its efforts to tackle empty homes and support landlords and tenants in the private rented sector, with a new scheme that will allow it to lease privately owned properties and offer them for affordable rent.

The local authority is set to begin a new private sector leasing arrangement that will allow it to take on privately owned vacant properties that are substandard or where the landlord has not been able to find a suitable resident, return them to a good standard and offer them for an affordable rent to residents looking for a home from the council’s housing register. The scheme will help bring empty properties back into use and build a larger stock of council-managed houses to meet demand for good standard homes at an affordable rent.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, city portfolio holder at Sunderland City Council, said: “As a council, our commitment is to create stronger communities and a city where everyone is able to lead a healthy, comfortable life. Part of that commitment is to drive up the standard of accommodation across the city, so that every resident – whatever their income – can enjoy a good quality home at an affordable rent that enables them to lead a comfortable life, with security and stability.

“By all means possible, we will ensure we deliver on these promises, and this latest scheme we’re moving ahead with will help us realise that aim, taking properties that have fallen empty and bringing them to a good standard that will enable residents to move in and secure a home that enables them to set down roots and realise their potential.”

The scheme is focused on homes owned by private landlords in the city who either do not have the capital to bring the properties to a lettable or Decent Homes standard, or simply lack the skills or ability to let and manage their properties in a legally compliant and customer-focussed way.  Often, in these cases, there are significant delays in letting the property, and homes can fall into disrepair and begin to negatively impact on the communities they stand amongst.  With council intervention, it is hoped that landlords who are experiencing difficulties in renting their property can be supported, ensuring that homes are returned to use as quickly as possible with the confidence of a guaranteed rental income.

The council will introduce two models to address these concerns; one a Private Sector Housing Lease Model and the second a Lease and Repair Model. The Private Sector Housing Lease Model will be used where properties are in a good condition and meet minimum rental standards, with no improvements carried out to the home under the agreement. The Lease and Repair Model will see the council carry out a range of improvements to the property within a four week period – costs will be paid back by the landlord during the course of the lease – to ensure the home is of a lettable standard.  The improvements carried out on the homes will be undertaken by the council’s Building Services Team, supporting wider apprenticeship and job creation opportunities. In both schemes, the properties will be allocated to tenants from the council’s housing register and managed as part of the council’s housing service.

Cllr Johnston added: “This is a win-win scheme that will drive up housing standards, helping us create more stable, settled communities where properties are well looked after,  allows us to invest in future skills, creating exciting employment opportunities for local people. We’re delighted to be moving forward with this plan.”

The scheme is part of a wider council Housing Delivery and Investment Plan (HDIP) to enable local people to access homes that they need and enable them to live as independently as possible.  The local authority has committed to bring more than 360 empty properties into use as family homes over the next five years; deliver 117 new build bungalows; and through new build, conversion and refurbishment, create 95 new homes as supported accommodation.

Image: Sunderland councillor Kevin Johnson.

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