A row of terraced houses at Wapping Lane have remained vacant for years
Newly published data has revealed that the Derry council area has over 1,000 empty homes.
An answer provided in response to a question submitted by SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan to the Minister for Communities detailed the number of empty homes in each constituency.
Information on the number of empty homes is held by the Department of Finance’s Land and Property Services.
The most recent figures as at September 22, 2019, indicate a total of 19,111 empty residential properties across NI. In Derry City and Strabane there are 1,252.
Empty homes are spread throughout the city, including Wapping Lane close to the Fountain where a row of terraced houses have remained vacant for a considerable period time. The homes sit right next to the iconic Sinclair shirt factory building which was converted into 52 apartments in recent years.
The Northern Ireland Empty Homes Strategy and Action Plan 2013-2018 aimed to tackled the issue of empty homes.
The strategy defined an empty home as any residential property not currently occupied that has remained unoccupied for longer than six months, and that is not currently being actively marketed by the owner.
It says that vacant homes can blight neighbourhoods, lead to property deterioration, anti-social behaviour and are ultimately a “wasted resource”.
Additionally, identifying the whereabouts of owners of empty houses should increase rates revenue.
“Although legal penalties such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) have been used successfully across the water, it is generally accepted that an incentivised ‘carrot’ approach is likely to have a more effective outcome than a purely ‘stick’ orientated strategy,” the report adds.
As of December 2012 there were over 40,000 people on the housing waiting list with approximately half of these applicants in housing stress.
Bringing long-term empty homes back into use would address some of the unmet need It would also encourage wider community regeneration whilst promoting urban renewal, and long-term sustainable rural communities.
Work to date has shown that efforts to bring empty homes back into use are hampered by a number of factors not least an absence of staff and financial resources.
Other factors include an absence of accurate data about the location and ownership of empty homes and no straightforward legal means of bringing the properties into use, for example to secure the property for rental purposes.
The Housing Executive (NIHE) ran an Empty Homes Unit as part of the strategy, however, it was scaled back before it ceased altogether in March 2016.
In a statement to the Derry News, the Department for Communities said: “The Empty Homes Strategy 2013-2018 has undergone an internal review and the Department is currently exploring how the findings will help inform future policy interventions on bringing empty homes back into use.
“Future policy interventions to bring more empty homes back into use is something that the department is currently considering. Housing, including bringing homes back into use is a priority for the Minister going forward.”
The Empty Homes Strategy was implemented over the period 2013 -2018 during which time awareness was raised through information leaflets.
In addition, the now defunct Empty Homes Unit was established to enable members of the public to report empty homes in their area and funding was made available to housing associations to bring empty homes back into use.
The Housing Executive used its vesting powers to acquire and demolish an empty tower block in Rathcoole which was replaced with 18 new social homes by Helm Housing Association and legislation has been amended to allow the sharing of information between the Department, Housing Executive and Land and Property Services.
The total number of empty homes brought back into use as a result of the strategy to date is 223. The information is not currently available by constituency.
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