MORE than 500 empty homes in Torbay have been brought back into use in the past year.
It comes as new figures show there are 16,000 homes nationally that have been empty for more than six months.
Deputy mayor Dave Thomas, lead for housing in the Bay, said while the percentage of empty homes at 4.49 per cent was the highest in the South West, they were making progress getting people back into properties.
The number of properties empty long term, for more than six months, substantially unfurnished was 1,080 compared with 1,278 last year and the number empty for less than six months was 1,840.
Cllr Thomas said: "These are all private residences, individually owned, not council controlled."
Torbay Council has a handful of properties, including three at the Tweenaway traffic lights.
They were bought ahead of the junction improvements and two were used for the contractors.
Cllr Thomas said: "One is on the market, the other two we are looking to refurnish and get people in.
"We couldn't have people living in there while the work was being done.
"There are many reasons why owners have empty properties.
"A lot of them are inherited and it can take months to go through probate.
"Often the family don't live down here and it goes on the market.
"Inheriting the property can cause some people real financial headaches."
He said the council had just won £680,000 from the Homes and Communities Agency and was putting up £500,000 itself to create a fund to help owners get their property let.
The owners could get up to £10,000 repair work done if in return they allow their property to be let to priority waiting list tenants for at least five years.
Cllr Thomas said: "We are working with partners like Chapter 1 and Shekinah who will be doing the work on the property.
"At the end of five years, the property goes back to the landlord and they can decide whether to continue renting or take it back."
The council has also employed an officer for two years to help owners of empty homes.
While the number was down 198 on last year, during the past year they had brought 549 homes into use.
Cllr Thomas said: "We can take enforcement if we have tried everything and failed, but there are now these schemes which can help.
"But some people inherit properties who have never had properties before and are faced with paying bills and losing benefits and a property they cannot do anything with because it can't be sold. It can be a big financial headache for people."
Of the houses at Tweenaway, a council spokesman confirmed: "Three properties had occupants on short-term leases and they moved out in advance of the scheme with these houses being demolished as part of the scheme.
"Two other properties were being used temporarily by the council as offices / site compound while the work was being carried out.
"The current proposal is that these will be leased to a housing association."