More than 400 homes empty in Lewisham for over two years – in a borough with 10,000 families on waiting list

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

Hundreds of properties have been lying empty for over two years in a South London borough – with 10,000 people on the list waiting for a home. New figures reveal 445 homes in Lewisham have been vacant for more than 24 months.

Another 1,009 properties  have been empty for between six months and two years. The total number of vacant properties in the borough stands at 1,454 as of February 2022. The shocking figures were revealed by a Lewisham housing boss.

The council’s director of housing services Fenella Beckman said the number of properties without occupants was unacceptable. She blamed staff shortages for the local authority’s inability to cut the numbers.

Speaking at a housing committee on March 10, she said: “Empty homes has been a challenge, mainly because I’ve had a vacancy in that role.

“[The total number] is just too many when you think about the numbers of people who need homes. These are houses on the street that are empty. It doesn’t make our neighbourhoods look very good.

“The work we do is to trace landlords or home owners. This is a really big priority for me for the next year, putting a strategy in place to tackle and reduce the number of empty homes.”

Ms Beckman added she didn’t know the share of empty homes that were  owned by Lewisham Council.

In a move to stop homeowners holding on to properties without tenants, Lewisham is offering landlords grants to help them fix them up. In return, they in turn must give them over to Lewisham as temporary accommodation for between three and five years.

Nearly 5,200 families in danger of becoming homeless sought help from Lewisham Council between April 2018 and March 2020. The number of people in temporary accommodation has surged by 50 per cent since 2015. Homeless families can expect to wait an average of 10 years to get a two-bed council house in the borough.

Cllr Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “With so many families in Lewisham struggling to find affordable homes in the borough, it’s unacceptable that so many properties are left empty by private landlords, instead of being put to good use. Given the acute shortage of affordable housing in London, we cannot accept long-term empty properties as the norm.

“We have a dedicated Empty Homes officer post within our Housing team to help identify long-term empty properties and get them back into use. Following a vacancy in this role, we are in the process of recruiting a replacement who will be able to continue this work and help develop a new Empty Homes strategy for Lewisham.

“We charge a Council Tax premium on long-term empty properties to discourage this practice, as well as offering grants to help bring empty homes up to the decent homes standard and get them back into use.”

 

 


 

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