Aisha Iqbal: Greed is the real cause of Leeds’s empty homes crisis

A boarded up shop.
A boarded up shop.
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There’s a house and attached shop at the end of my street which has been empty for as long as I have lived there.

On numerous occasions, I have asked those apparently in the know about what they are doing - or can do - to get it brought back into use.

But I’ve never really got a proper or satisfactory answer.

The building is a grimy eyesore and every time I walk past it, it annoys me that little bit more.

The issue of empty properties has been a heated one across Leeds for almost as long as this particular building has been a pain in my proverbials.
My last conversation on this matter revealed that the core issue is a battle of wills between members of the family who own the building, who are arguing about whether to sell.

So, it’s good old fashioned greed which is pulling the strings on this particular drama.

In the meantime, the building and its garden are going to rack and ruin, and the people forced to live near it can do nothing but chunter about the impact on the value of their own homes, and the general lack of civic pride it engenders.

This sorry saga is just one example of many thousands of empty homes across the city.

Figures published this week revealed that Leeds is second only to Durham in terms of numbers of empties.

The city council disputes the outdated numbers published in national reports - and says the actual figure has plunged to 3,500 from the 5,700 claimed. And I do know from covering umpteen council meetings on the issue at Leeds Civic Hall that huge efforts have been made in recent years to bring these buildings back into use.

But one thing is undeniable - the vast majority of these empties are PRIVATELY owned, just like that shop at the end of my street.

What an utter, shameful waste of a valuable and much-needed resource.

Surely, as citizens, we all have a part to play in finding a solution?

Understanding the depth of the housing crisis facing us - and the importance, therefore, of making sure every single habitable or potentially habitable property in inhabited - might be a start.

Pulling our heads out of the sand about the real reasons for this - and not resorting to simplistic, broken-record reasoning like that old immigration chestnut - might be another.

If every single property owner who is sitting on an eyesore property were to awaken their inner altruist, we might have a fighting chance.

But I fear that won’t happen, because, as we know in our property obsessed society, greed is good.

I imagine thousands of failed property magnates sitting waiting - in vain - for that magical deep-pocketed buyer to fly in on their winged horse.

It might be a little harsh - and of course people have the right to try and profit from their investment - but I have come to the point where I think any privately owned home which has been empty for more than two years should be forcibly bought, and the home refurbished and rented out to a family in need.

Unfortunately, it comes down to, as it often does, local decision makers just not having enough power to do this.

Leeds council chiefs HAVE recently pledged to lobby Government for extra powers and a year ago, they started charging absentee landlords 150 per cent council tax.

But the powers, as they stand, are just not strong enough, and the council needs to lobby harder.

It’s time for our national and local decision-makers to deal with the empty homes problem head-on - and help us all get our house in order.

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