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A few tips to ensure success when reviving empty homes
Over the last year, empty homes awareness has risen steadily in both the housing and political spheres. Public awareness was raised in particular as a result of Channel 4’s Great British Property Scandal.
In the programme, George Clarke championed the cause of local communities unable to resolve the paradox of acute housing needs combined with growing numbers of empty properties.
Empty homes present a significant opportunity to meet some of the demand for affordable housing in Britain today but how can organisations give their empty homes projects the best chance of success?
It’s estimated that there are between 900,000 and one million empty homes in the UK. Each represents a problem for individuals, neighbourhoods and communities. It’s well documented that empty homes become a focus for vandalism and other forms of anti-social behaviour. The Great British Property Scandal and other programmes have drawn attention to the myriad reasons why properties remain empty in both the public and private sectors. It is clear that a wide range of approaches will be required in order to address the problem.
There are a number of initiatives being developed by local authorities and community groups across the country. Here at Ark Housing Consultancy, we’re intrigued to see how the government’s new £30 million grant funding made available to community and voluntary groups will be used. In many ways this represents a return to grass-roots housing association activity where groups of local people came together to buy or build homes to meet housing crises of the recent past.
Ultimately Ark expects to see a real mix of organisations co-operating in a variety of ways to address this issue and make a discernible impact.
Below are six points for consideration, to help inform a successful empty homes scheme. They were drawn from Ark’s work with Friendship Care and Housing in Birmingham to ‘de-convert’ 13 empty bedsit properties into family homes, as featured on the Great British Property Scandal:
1: Know your local housing market
Birmingham City Council identified an acute need for larger family housing. High void rates across bedsit Victorian properties presented a significant opportunity for a de-conversion programme to convert empty homes into larger family homes. Making the homes fit the housing needs in the area as opposed to making the housing need fit the homes was key to the success of the project.
2: Find partners
Birmingham City Council engaged Friendship Care and Housing as a delivery RP, who subsequently commissioned Ark as a project manager to handle the complicated de-conversion process. The three partners worked effectively together to pool resources, including contributions from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which covered the cost of the de-conversion process. Without the knowledge obtained by each party the project would not have come to fruition.
3: Think small
Don’t ignore the small opportunities that are often forgotten about. Tackling these helps to support existing communities, and the 13 homes in Birmingham encouraged new families to be housed within their constituent areas. It is also easier to find smaller pots of funding. This goes for empty properties owned by third parties, which can be leased through rent guarantee schemes or where other incentives such as free refurbishment can stimulate housing market failure. Potentially, third party owner properties offer the greatest source of empty homes.
4: Set a high standard
Work closely with residents to set the specification for the converted homes. Can you achieve the Lifetime Homes standard across the dwellings in question? Could you maximise the use of sustainable technologies? Much of the stock subject to the aborted Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Programme did not meet the expectations of a modern resident. Be innovative when reconfiguring empty homes to ensure that these expectations are met as opposed to refurbishing outdated spaces.
5: Ensure you have got the right expertise
Dealing with empty homes is a complex process so ensure the contract is properly mapped out and costed prior to commencing the construction process.
6: Communication and innovation
The Birmingham, Friendship and Ark team were able to secure additional support through Channel 4, which enabled the partnership to deliver homes for a total of 129 people. The trick to partnership working is a genuine commitment to shared goals and housing organisations will have to be light footed in order to engender positive change. If excellent communication and innovation is not present, it isn’t worth bothering.
Partner, Ark Housing Consultancy
Photo: George Clark and the Bibi family at the handover of a previously empty de-converted home in Birmingham