New partnership could be model for tackling empty homes in Scotland’s rural and island communities

Before and after pictures of a formerly empty home in the Outer Hebrides which was restored by Tighean Innse Gall as a pilot project and is now occupied by a young professional

TIGHEAN Innse Gall (TIG) and the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) have launched a joint project to tackle the issue of empty homes in Outer Hebrides, working closely with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) to purchase and refurbish empty homes that will be made available to members of the community through social rent, mid-market rent, and rent-to-buy.

A minimum of twelve homes will be brought back into use over the course of the two-year project, revitalising rural communities across the Island chain, making them more attractive to people and families who wish to remain on the Island and also attracting new people and families to re-locate to the islands.

Shaheena Din, National Project Manager for the SEHP, said: “We are delighted to announce our partnership with TIG, which has a fantastic track record of delivering housing and services to communities in the Outer Hebrides.”

“The project to bring empty homes back into use is an excellent example of how innovative partnerships – the coming together of parties working towards the same goal – can produce tangible solutions for complex issues affecting rural and island communities across Scotland.”

“This partnership could prove to be a model for tackling empty homes in Scotland’s rural and island communities.”

At the outset of the project, TIG will undertake a feasibility study of 20 empty homes to ascertain ownership, identify risks and constraints, and to draw up costings and plans, from which the most viable properties will be considered. TIG will also work with the local community to ensure that any house refurbished would be affordable and attract interested tenants or buyers.

TIG’s Rural Housing Burden provision will ensure that projects in the scheme will not be used as tourist accommodation or sold on at profit during the lifetime of the property.

Donna Smith, Chief Executive Officer, TIG, said:

“We are truly excited about the difference this partnership could make in terms of tackling the problem of empty homes in the Outer Hebrides. Empty homes can often come with quite complex and sensitive situations, so the feasibility study will ensure that we invest in empty homes where success will be most likely achieved.”

“Our project will build on the fantastic empty homes work undertaken by the Council in the last few years and we will work with the local Empty Homes Officer to ensure the partnership is a success.”

According to Scottish Government figures published in December 2021, 596 properties in Na h-Eileanan an Iar had been empty for six months or more. 462 of these had been empty for more than a year. 

Typical reasons for homes becoming empty for several years include the death of an owner, inherited properties where the new owners are unsure of what to do, property owners not being able to afford restorations to make the home habitable, and owners in care which leads to the property deteriorating.

Councillor Donald Crichton, Chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee, said: “Bringing an empty home back into use not only restores an unused property and provides a home but benefits a whole community.”

“Since 2018, the Comhairle has helped to bring 185 homes back into use through advice and support given to owners.  Bringing these empty homes back into use allows our rural communities to grow and thrive, potentially bringing more children into village schools, which helps them to remain open and allows more money to be spent in the local economy.”

“The partnership between TIG and the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is a really exciting development for the Outer Hebrides, that will enable us to bring more homes back into use and support communities throughout the islands.”

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