COUNCILLORS in Merthyr Tydfil are to consider signing the council up to a Welsh Government grant scheme designed to help bring empty homes back into use.
A report to full council on Wednesday, April 19, recommends the council participates in the new National Empty Homes Grant programme.
If approved, there would be a maximum contribution of around £62,000 towards the scheme during 2023-24 and a similar contribution towards the scheme during 2024-25.
The scheme is the is the successor to the Valley Task Force Empty Homes Grant (VTF EHG).
Council officers previously gave “in principle” support to participating in the grant programme launching in April 2023.
Merthyr Tydfil has been awarded an indicative allocation of £621,000 which is the maximum allocation available.
To achieve maximum spend against the allocation would require a matched funding allocation of £62,000.
If take up is lower than the maximum allocation then less matched funding will be required.
Over the two years of the programme, if the maximum allocation is achieved then the total capital matched funding of £124,000 will be required which the council expects would be funded within the existing regeneration service capital allocation.
The report for full council said: “Empty private sector homes represent a wasted resource and financial expense both to the owners and the Council and in many cases a missed opportunity to provide much needed affordable housing for residents.
“Not only are they a waste of a valuable housing resource, but they can cause a blight to communities and distress to residents affected by their unsightly appearance and attract crime and anti-social behaviour.”
It said that over the last few years, the council has developed many tools and approaches to encourage empty homes to be brought back into use which have had a positive impact.
The council has recently approved a policy to charge a 100% council tax premium on long-term empty properties that have been empty in excess of 12 months.
This took effect from April 1 this year and now the council wants to be able to offer grant assistance to owners and prospective owners of long term empty properties.
The report said; “This grant will furthermore support the delivery of the council’s and Welsh Government’s priority of returning empty properties into use in the Merthyr Tydfil area, to help regenerate communities, provide more choice and suitable accommodation for residents.”
The council previously participated in the Valley Task Force (VTF) Empty Homes grant initiative in 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 which resulted in 17 properties receiving grant aid so that they would be returned to beneficial use, 14 of which have been completed.
This was achieved at an approximate total cost of just under £197,000 of which £134,000 was provided by VTF grant assistance, £63,000 from the council and £101,700 from the applicant.
The Welsh Government (WG) are replacing the Valley Task Force (VTF) Empty Homes Grant (EHG) initiative with a similar national scheme.
The report said that Welsh Government are committed to maximising the return to use of privately owned empty properties linked to their enforcement agenda, unmet housing need issues and more recently linking into the cost-of-living crisis, all of which the council says are aims that it shares.
The national scheme has received ministerial approval and was launched in January 2023 with £50 million has been set aside for the programme over a two year period, with allocations of £25m in 2023/2024 and £25m in 2024/2025.
The report said it will be very similar to the Valleys Task Force Empty Homes Grant, available to empty property owners who want to become owner-occupiers.
There is an initial allocation to each council based on council tax data relating to the number of empty homes for the specific year and for Merthyr Tydfil in 2022/2023 this is 2.48%.
Based on this, during 2023/2024 the allocation to the council would be approximately £621,000.
If, as expected, there is demand from property owners for the total allocation, the council contribution towards these grants at 10% would be approximately £62,000.
Based on a £25,000 maximum grant, this would bring back approximately 25 empty homes in year one, the report said.
The qualifying period for an empty home will be 12 months and the scheme will be administered nationally to ensure consistency and help with the tight delivery time-scales of the programme as well as considering local capacity issues.
The scheme will be administered by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.
In terms of the grant allocation formula, it will be a hybrid of both nominal allocation and demand led allocation where the initial allocation is nominal for each council to ensure fairness but with spend being monitored and recovered as well as redistributed if not effectively used.
There will be a maximum grant of £25,000 to include energy efficiency requirements. and the council’s contribution in match funding will be 10% with a maximum of £25,000 per property.
The applicant contribution will be 15% of the cost of the works up to a maximum of £3,000, waived for cases of hardship.
Any costs above the grant maximum would be met by the applicant.
The criteria include the owner of a home that has been registered with council tax as an empty for a minimum of 12 months, grant work must result in energy efficiency improvement and five year post grant conditions are applied.