A new fund to help bring empty housing back into use has been launched by the government.
Three hundred million pounds may be spent over the next three years to repair and renovate 5,000 empty homes, many of which have become derelict. Communities Minister Don Foster said in a statement: ‘This extra money will help communities refurbish empty and abandoned homes, bring in new residents, provide desperately needed extra affordable housing for families and regenerate communities.’
The scheme is open to councils, housing associations, community and voluntary groups. It aims to prioritise 27 towns — which have been given cash injections to refurbish their high streets — and 326 town team partners.
Community-based housing organisations such as Canopy in Leeds — who are working to bring empty housing back into use — are likely to benefit from such a scheme. Founded in 1996, Canopy was set up in response to the large number of empty homes in the Burley Lodge area of Leeds. Since then, they have reportedly built up an organisation supporting self-help housing over a period of 15 years and now have 54 properties housing around 80 tenants.
There also appears to be wider benefits to their work. Canopy’s volunteer programme supported 71 individuals in 2011 and aims to help give people experience in renovating homes linked to formal training.
Steve Hoey, Coordinator of Canopy, told The Positive: “Canopy received £96,000 of funding last year to buy and renovate three homes. We were delighted to get this grant to work on some of Leeds’ empty buildings.” The first £32,000 of the funds has been used towards buying an empty home, which might be renovated with the help of volunteers and tenanted in the next couple of months.
According to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, since 2009 the number of empty homes has fallen from 300,000 to 259,000. During this time, local councils have been able to use new legislation to take over derelict housing and have received funding from central government. Ministers are also looking at making better use of empty commercial buildings. This aims to include facilitating the conversion of commercial property over to housing and making better use of space above shops.
The Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) welcomed the moves to convert commercial property into housing and bringing empty housing back into use.
CIH senior policy officer Joanne Kent-Smith told The Positive: “We welcome the opportunity for a wide range of organisations, including councils, housing associations, community and voluntary groups, as well as high street regeneration groups, to bid for a share of the funding.” She added, “It’s important that the local communities that will benefit are at the heart of any project aimed at bringing empty homes back into use.”
These sentiments were echoed by Ben Reeves-Lewis, London council housing officer and commentator, who said that it is important for people to be involved in reporting empty homes, and it was something they may possibly do using smart phone apps. “People always know where empty homes are and if the technology is available for people to let councils know about them, it might work,” he said.
The government also claims that bringing empty property back into use might contribute to the support of local building firms. It is calculated that every pound spent on construction work such as this may possibly generate a further £2.84 for the economy, which may be a boost to this sector.
How might revamping derelict building improve communities?