THOUSANDS of homes are lying empty right across the North East as the housing crisis looms and levels of homelessness rise, The Northern Echo can today reveal.

From homes left seemingly abandoned by private landlords to homes in need of desperate repair empty, more than 31,000 homes are currently vacant in the region.

Councils have reacted saying they have used enforcement action to tackle the issue, while the Government has said it has taken "significant action" to curb the figures.

According to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, there were a total of 31,401 empty homes in the region as of October 4, 2021.

The Northern Echo: EMPTY: Boarded up homes in Middlesbrough

Homes in the Gresham area of Middlesbrough

The figures, which were published this week, also revealed how out of those more than half - 18,490 / were long-term vacant, meaning they have been standing empty for six months or more.

>>>see the full list of council areas below<<<

It comes as North East Labour MP Alex Cunningham last night slammed the figures as "disturbing" at a time when "thousands are desperate" to find a home.

Meanwhile, Action on Empty Homes raised concerns as it emerged the North East had seen the highest level of long-term empty homes in the country. 

Special report: Fury as houses left abandoned in the North East while 'thousands' remain on waiting list

The Echo has broken down the figures by each council area and has asked each authority what they are doing - or have done - to reduce the number of empty homes in their area. 

Durham County Council, which has the highest number of empty homes but has attributed that to its size, said it had worked to reduce the figure and had successfully met targets. 

Meanwhile Northumberland County Council, the second-highest, said it had a "good track" record in helping landlords bring their unused and empty homes back into residential use.

On the other end of the scale, Darlington Borough Council, which has among the lowest number of empty houses, said intervention had reduced the number of long-term vacant properties by almost 23 percent since 2020.

Here's how your area compares 

- County Durham - 6,197 empty homes (3,901 empty longer than six months)

- Northumberland - 3,444 empty homes (2,064 empty longer than six months)

- Newcastle - 3,241 empty homes (1,800 empty longer than six months)

- Sunderland - 3,210 empty homes (2,108 empty longer than six months)

- Gateshead - 2,417 empty homes (1,184 empty longer than six months)

- Middlesbrough - 2,109 empty homes (1,375 empty longer than six months)

- Stockton - 2,058 empty homes (1,199 empty longer than six months)

- North Tyneside - 1,893 empty homes (1,032 empty longer than six months)

- South Tyneside - 1,466 empty homes (863 empty longer than six months)

- Redcar and Cleveland - 1,368 empty homes (836 empty longer than six months)

- Hartlepool - 1,330 empty homes (919 empty longer than six months)

- Darlington - 1,168 empty homes (549 empty longer than six months)

- Hambleton - 895 empty homes (456 empty longer than six months)

- Richmondshire - 605 empty homes (204 empty longer than six months)

What each of the councils have said

The Northern Echo approached all councils with their own figures and asked them what they were doing to reduce the number of empty homes.

Durham County Council

In County Durham, the council said it had hit targets for four out of five years in the reduction of empty homes - with more than 900 brought back into use.

Geoff Paul, the council's interim head of development and housing, said: “Durham is the largest local authority in the North East and, due to our geographical size, contains more properties than neighbouring council areas.

“Comparing the total number of properties in each area does not take this account and a fairer means of comparison is percentage of empty properties.

"In County Durham, this is 2.5 percent of the total number of homes, a figure which is similar to other areas in the region.

“There are many reasons why a house remains unoccupied long-term. We are working hard to support landlords and owners to bring these properties back into use in order to help people who need housing and to resolve any issues that empty properties cause in local communities.

“Support for landlords is wide-ranging, including providing advice and potential funding to make essential home improvements and discussing how new tenants can take up occupation.

“In four of the past five years, we have achieved our targets and brought more than 900 properties back into use.”

The Northern Echo:

Darlington Borough Council

In Darlington, the council has seen the number of long-term empty homes decrease by 22.9 percent in the past year after interventions relating to the "Northgate Initiative."

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Deputy Leader of the council, said that the authority had "very few" empty council homes, of which were empty for refurbishment works.

He said: “The figures in the Government data refer to all types of housing, mostly those in private sector.

"We have very few empty Council homes – only to carry out refurbishment works needed in between tenancies – and we have no long-term empty Council houses.”

Middlesbrough Council

In Middlesbrough, the council said that it had committed more than £1m of cash towards the issue of tackling its number of empty homes.

Councillor Eric Polano, the council's Executive member for Regeneration, said: “Empty properties can blight communities, and it’s an issue we’ve been proactive in tackling.

“We’ve already committed more than £1 million to the problem, and continue to work with a number of partners to return empty properties to use.

“That approach includes working closely with landlords to acquire empty properties in areas such as Newport and North Ormesby.”

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council

In Redcar and Cleveland, the council said it had worked on a scheme to help bring back a number of empty homes into use, while saying a new project was being finalised.

A council spokesperson said: "The council continues to work to bring as many empty households back into use as possible.

"A recent scheme, Empty Homes to Happy Homes, which the authority ran in partnership with Beyond Housing, involved working with owners to renovate long-term empty properties and bring them back into use was a success and now a new project is being finalised.

"Our housing officers also routinely engage with property owners to determine their future plans.

"While the figure of 1,368 empty properties is high, that is a ‘snapshot’ figure which includes many homes which are empty for only a short period of time, for example when new owners are waiting to move in while selling another property, and our officers will continue to focus primarily on houses which are empty in the longer term.  

"Furthermore, our Housing Standards Team continues to investigate any complaints relating to an empty property to establish what actions are necessary to ensure the empty property does not impact the community."

Stockton Borough Council

In Stockton, the council said that while it had seen the number of long-term empty homes fall, the reduction remained a "priority" and admitted they blighted the area.

Councillor Nigel Cooke, the council's Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Housing, said: “The number of long term empty homes has fallen in the last year but it continues to be a priority because empty homes can blight the local area. 

“We offer a range of practical support and advice to owners of empty homes to help them bring their properties back into use to provide much needed housing.

"But if attempts to work with owners of empty homes are not successful, and a property remains empty or unsafe, we do have legal powers available to us, though these are limited.

“We urge anyone who owns an empty home to get in touch to find out what support is on offer to bring their property back into use.

"Contact the Empty Homes Team for advice or to report an empty home email:"

Hambleton District Council

Hambleton District Council said that it was working with other local authorities to help bring down the number of empty homes across the area.

A council spokesman said: “As part of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Housing Partnership we are working with colleagues across the county to review the number of empty properties with a view to reducing them.”

Sunderland City Council

In Sunderland, Councillor Kevin Johnston, Cabinet Member for Dynamic City, said the council had worked closely with owners and had purchased properties themselves. 

He said: "There are more than 130,000 domestic properties in Sunderland and there are many reasons why a property can remain empty.

"The City Council works closely with owners and landlords on bringing properties back to use, this has included the council purchasing properties, refurbishing them and finding new tenants."

South Tyneside Council

In South Tyneside, the council said it had purchased a small number of empty homes in order to help with the housing of homeless people in the area.

A council spokesperson said: “Currently, just over one per cent of council-owned stock is empty, with the majority of those properties undergoing repairs so they can be let. 

“We market and advertise accommodation via Tyne and Wear Homes, which is a partnership between South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Newcastle, Gateshead Councils and all social housing providers in the area. 

“The council has purchased a small number of empty single persons accommodation to help with housing homeless people and is currently awaiting a decision from DLUHC on whether on whether it has been successful in a bid for further funding.

“The council has previously used a range of measures to tackle empty homes, including advice, guidance, persuasion and enforcement.

"Enforcement action has included the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders, where derelict homes are refurbished using Government and Council funding and then rented out to local people with the council acting as ‘landlord’.”

North Tyneside Council

In North Tyneside, the council's Director of Environment, Housing and Leisure, said it had set out a plan to develop long-standing empty homes, making them desirable for the market.

Phil Scott said: “There are over 100,000 domestic properties in North Tyneside, the 1,893 empty homes reported in this data set make up less than 2 percent of our total stock. 

“Less than 1 percent of our 1,400 Council owned properties are currently empty. 

“We have set a clear priority to develop long standing empty properties and make them desirable homes when they are placed on the market. 

“We have a strong track record of buying and developing derelict properties and bringing them back to life.

"We have recently completed a transformation of a listed building on the historic Northumberland Square in North Shields and are about to finalise the development of 11 empty properties in Wallsend, reimagining the buildings into four family friendly, affordable homes. 

“We will continue to work proactively with landlords and owners to encourage them to make positive changes to their properties to prevent them being empty for extended periods of time.”

Northumberland County Council

In Northumberland, the council said it had a "good track record" in working with owners to bring their homes back into use, while saying it was charging higher council tax in many cases.

A council spokesperson said: “In October 2021 there were 2070 long-term empty properties in Northumberland, 46 percent of which are currently charged a higher council tax as they have been empty for two years or more.   

"The council has a good track record of working with empty homeowners, offering a range of assistance and incentives to help them to bring their properties back into residential use. 

"Over the past 6 years it has assisted in bringing 809 empty properties back into use, mainly in the private rented sector, making sure that Northumberland has more homes available for its residents. 

Read more: Fury over number of empty homes in the North East and North Yorkshire

"The 3,444 figure quoted includes second homes and all other properties that are empty, regardless of the period of time, for example those that are up for sale or for let.” 

What the Government has said

In response to the figures, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said significant action had been taken to prevent empty homes.

It said that as a result of councils being given more powers to increase council tax and enforcement action, the number of empty homes had fallen in the last decade.

A spokesperson said: “We have taken significant action to prevent empty homes. This includes giving councils stronger powers to increase council tax on empty homes and take over their management.

"As a result, the number of empty homes has fallen by more than 30,000 since 2010.

“Since 2010, we delivered over 23,500 affordable homes in the North East and the region is receiving over £210 million from our new Affordable Homes Programme, helping to provide a further 4,000 homes.”


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