Brentwood is set to recruit a specialised officer to try to get potentially hundreds of empty properties back into use.
Brentwood Borough Council said the area can have anywhere from between 300 to 450 empty homes at any one time.
Many of these are in transition from being moved into, redecorated and rebuilt, but many have stood empty for long periods.
The borough council wants to have a process to tackle these longer term empty homes and bring them back into occupation.
It is calculated that as of March 2021 there were 286 properties that were empty and unfurnished for more than six months.
Of those, 108 stood empty for more than two years.
It has long had a empty homes problem – between 2015 and 2016 the number of empty homes per sq km increased by 143 per cent – only Harrow had a larger increase.
The authority has admitted empty homes in the borough lead to issues relating to anti-social behaviour, are unattractive and a waste of potential housing which could be better utilised.
The new officer will try and locate owners and starting with an informal approach will work with them cooperatively in an attempt to bring properties back into use.
Where this is not successful the council will move onto enforcement against the owner to require the property be brought back into use, it adds.
Leader of the borough council, Chris Hossack, said at the Environment, Enforcement & Housing Committee on Monday (September 20): “It’s never been gripped properly, nobody’s actually giving it any thought as to exactly what’s needed.
“There are 6,000 empty homes across Essex and apparently there’s a housing crisis so if we brought those number of homes back into use we probably wouldn’t need Dunton Hills garden village, just to put it in scale. So that’s why it’s a massive problem.”
He added: “Some of these people are really difficult to engage with but there’s a massive commercial opportunity in this.”
The council tax levy on long term empty properties – amounting to approximately £15k could be used to fund the part time officer.
Additional money will be made available through the New Homes Bonus for every property that is brought back into occupation.
The options available include enforced sale, Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) and Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) – which enables the council to purchase and sell an empty property albeit given the lengthy and costly approach this entails.
Director of Environment and Communities at the borough council Greg Campbell said: “There are different circumstances that you would use depending on what it is and it may be the length of time but it’s engaging with the people that are there then you would make a decision on what action you would take.”