During a debate called by Chi Onwurah, Labour Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central, in Parliament on Monday (12th November), Housing Minister Don Foster agreed to go away and consider proposals to get more empty homes back into use in Newcastle. The debate was called as part of Chi’s campaign for more affordable housing in the city.
Despite an impressive programme of work to get empty homes back into use by Newcastle City Council, there are currently 3,770 empty homes in Newcastle, 99% of which are in the private sector.
Housing is the number one issue that constituents visit Chi with. Speaking ahead of the debate, Chi said:
“Newcastle Council have done some excellent work with empty homes – a film crew from France has even visited to learn from that work – but Ministers are now preparing to pull the rug from under them not just with huge frontloaded cuts, but by effectively revoking powers to force empty homes back into use as a last resort.
I believe that property ownership comes with responsibilities as well as rights. A responsibility to the community in which that property is owned and to the people of that community.
Housing associations tell me that landlords often prefer to convert their houses to Houses of Multiple Occupancy and would then rather leave HMOs empty in the hope of eventually attracting tenants who will pay higher rents for the same square footage than rent to families. I do not think this is responsible.”
Chi questioned the new Minister on a number of issues around the Government’s revocation of local powers to tackle empty homes and whether Ministers will look at the particular issue of empty properties of ‘multiple occupancy’, which landlords are reportedly reluctant to rent to families.
Responding to Chi, the new Minister said:
“She raised the issue of houses in multiple occupation, and suggested that, in certain circumstances, people have received planning permission to convert a property—largely such properties have three or more storeys and five or more people—into an HMO. At times, however, that property is no longer used for multiple occupation and could be used for a family, but that does not happen because people are afraid of losing the planning permission if they subsequently wish to convert the house back into an HMO. I have had a very brief conversation with officials about that situation, but I clearly need to have more detailed conversations. That might not be the problem that the hon. Lady describes, but I give her an undertaking to look at the issue. If necessary, we will have further dialogue, but I certainly commit to writing to her.”