'Very hard to stop empty homes' - Ipswich vacant properties increase
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Empty homes were difficult to tackle during Covid, the council has said, as the number of vacant Ipswich properties has increased.
The borough council can "control" its own council homes but faces a range of legal issues when it tries to get privately-owned empty homes back into use.
Councillor Alasdair Ross, the portfolio holder for community protection, said these homes being empty often cause issues as people use them to squat in, can attract rats affecting other homes and can fall into being derelict.
He added that sometimes people do not know they own the homes as they live far away, landlords don't realise they own it or people cannot part with the family home that they don't use.
Mr Ross said the council only resorts to compulsory purchase when all attempts to deal with the owner have failed.
"The ones we are buying are in very bad condition," he said. "It's very hard and people do not realise it's a problem.
"We give them a good deal, market value has to be paid for them.
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"Most of the long term empty home cases are quite complex.
"It's a long term project, there is no quick way."
IBC's target of getting 40 homes back in use was missed in 2020/2021 with six long term empty homes used again.
In 2018/19, the target of 50 was missed by one and in 2019/2020 by 10 due to a shift in resourcing, according to an IBC report.
Mr Ross said they need to protect staff during this period and it would not have been safe for them to enter buildings.
Mr Ross also said the lack of a temporary Nightingale court to deal with Suffolk's "backlog" has also made it harder for the council to deal with the most difficult cases.
"They are three or four years behind, " he said.
Ipswich has had a 67% increase in the number of homes empty for at least six months.
It was 344 in 2019 and has gone up to 574 in 2020, according to April 2021 figures from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government.
Mr Ross said most of those are people who are waiting to sell their homes at higher prices by waiting for the market to increase the price of a home.
"It's in the low 20s, the one's that are actually empty," he said.
He encouraged residents to go to ipswich.gov.uk/report-empty-property to report an empty property.