A scheme has been launched to bring empty and abandoned homes back into use across Bedford Borough.
The initiative, launched by Labour concillors at Borough Hall, will secure funding for a new post of empty homes officer.
A meeting last night (Wednesday, June 25) approved the role, with the recruitment process due to begin shortly.
Councillor Sue Oliver, one of the members who campaigned for the post, said: “We went to the Mayor to create a new post and spare money from last year’s ‘carry over’ budget was used.
“We are pressing for the post to be filled as soon as possible.”
More than 500 properties in Bedford Borough have stood empty for between 12 months and 20 years, despite a housing shortage which has seen rents and house prices increase due to lack of supply.
Neglected properties can also fall into dangerous states of disrepair and become a nuisance to the owners of neighbouring properties, attracting squatters, vandals and vermin.
Councillor Oliver said: “It makes no sense for houses to stand empty and fall into disrepair when there are so many people in need of a home.
“Unfortunately cuts imposed by the Coalition Government on local authorities have meant fewer staff available to tackle this vital issue.
“By ensuring an officer is employed to specifically tackle this important task we hope to bring more properties in the borough back into use more quickly.”
95% of long-term empty homes are privately owned.
Bedford Borough Council has to track down the owner and can offer advice and support to bring the properties back into use.
As a final measure they can issue a Compulsory Purchase Order. Properties in Broad Avenue and Edward Road have recently been bought in this way.
A council spokesman said: “The council works to tackle the problem of empty homes to increase available homes and to avoid the nuisance empty homes can create within neighbourhoods.”
The funding for the new position stems from a carry-over budget listed in a report where £70,000 has been set aside under the environment and sustainable communities for a housing development officer.