Councillors on the Western Isles have backed in principal the introduction of a dedicated officer to help bring long-term, privately-owned empty homes back into use.
The Community and Housing Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has recommended the council accept an offer of part-funding for the post for two years from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP). The remaining cost will be covered from the income from council tax on second homes.
Official figures show there are 522 long-term empty properties in private ownership on the Outer Hebrides and that 231 of these have been vacant for 12 months or more. It equates to 3.5% of local housing stock which is more than twice the national rate of empty properties. Some areas are more affected than others. In Stornoway 4% of homes are lying empty but that rises to 8% of homes being long-term empty in the more rural areas.
Shaheena Din, National Manager of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, said:
"I'm delighted we are close to working with the Comhairle on an empty homes project for the islands.
From our experience across Scotland we have found that having a dedicated member of staff makes the difference when it comes to engaging with the owners of empty homes and helping them make a plan to get property back into use."
Councillor Kenny John Macleod, Chair of the Communities and Housing Committee, said:
"Bringing empty properties back into use can be of much benefit for communities and contribute to Comhairle and Community Planning aspirations in terms of population retention and economic development. I am delighted that we are now moving forward to address this issue and we look forward to working with our partners in SEHP."
The SEHP is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland. Since it was established in 2010 it has helped to bring 2,800 homes back into use by supporting empty homes officers in most local authorities across the country.
Empty Homes officers use information, practical help as well as awareness of discounts, grants and loans to assist the owners of empty homes to bring properties back into use either by moving in, selling them or letting them out.