National Empty Homes Week, running from today (February 27, 2023), puts the spotlight on how empty properties can be brought back into use to increase the supply of much needed homes into a housing market experiencing great pressure in meeting Cornwall’s housing needs.
With around 2,400 long term empty homes in Cornwall making up 0.87% of residential housing, the Council is supporting the refurbishment of homes through its empty property loan scheme.
Set up in 2013, the Council has invested loans totalling £3,320,563 to support bringing 153 empty properties back into use that have been empty or unused for at least six months or are being converted from commercial use into residential housing. Short term, low interest loans of up to £60,000 are available to refurbish single homes, with higher amounts available where there is more than one home which can potentially be brought back into use.
The loans from the Council have supported projects of all types from simple home refurbishments, conversion of disused chapels, halls and public houses to turning former industrial sites into homes.
Cornwall Council portfolio holder for housing Olly Monk said: “We want to work with empty property owners to address the housing shortage in Cornwall. There can be many reasons why a property is left empty but in most cases there are realistic solutions to financial and other challenges which are preventing properties from being brought back into use. But as well as refurbishment of empty properties, we’re also keen to support future proofing housing stock in the private rented sector by improving their energy performance.”
Funding and guidance is available to help landlords comply with the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) now and in the future. The MEES regulations currently prohibit the letting of properties with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) below an E, unless a valid exemption has been registered. The Government has proposed to increase this rating to an EPC of C from 2025, meaning landlords should be taking action now to meet the new standards.
One such landlord has taken advantage of how the Council’s empty property loan can not only refurbish a property but also make improvements to its energy efficiency.
Originally a poor quality four-bedroom HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) that had been left empty for over two years, a property in Castle Street, Truro has been transformed into a modern, energy efficient home providing much needed accommodation for residents in the centre of Truro. Each room includes an ensuite bathroom, with a light and spacious galley kitchen and shared living space.
The project has taken six months to complete with a £60,000 empty property loan from the Council contributing to the total project cost of £120,000. The full refurbishment has included creating a rear extension to increase the number of ensuite rooms to six and has uplifted the EPC rating of the property to C so that it is compliant should regulations become more stringent.
The owner not only worked with the Council’s Empty Homes Team but also with the HMO Licensing Team and Building Control Services.
Mike Dewar, who transformed the property in Truro, says: “The whole process has been straightforward, and I encourage others who have an empty property that could be brought back into use to take up the offer of the Council’s loan scheme. This is a good example of the Council working well and effectively as the teams at the Council worked together to not only sort out the loan so that the work to upgrade the empty property could begin, but also to help me make sure that it meets all the legal and licensing standards and is ready for people to move in and enjoy. To have access to the money and support to transform a neglected property that had been empty for over two years and turn it into a modern, energy efficient home for six people, especially when we all know that housing is in short supply, has been really satisfying.”
Olly Monk said: “It demonstrates how effective it has been to bring together a number of services to support good quality refurbishment of residential properties. The teams have worked together to ensure that the property is compliant with all legislation and fully licensed for much needed local housing. Definitely a home for the future.”