Last month we launched our report, 'Community action on empty homes: Using empty homes to regenerate communities'. Below, Brighid Carey, its author, who managed the project, explains what we learnt.

This reports on a three-year study of six community-based projects bringing empty homes into use as affordable housing for local people. These projects don’t just deliver affordable housing: they provide work experience and training for people with diverse needs, and support community enterprise by creating spaces for local businesses, from café’s and bakeries to shops, workshops and offices.

We learnt a lot from the community-based projects as they shared with us the challenges they faced, the successes they achieved and the opportunities they opened for local residents. This report is about sharing that learning. Over the three years we followed them, they brought 65 empty homes into use as affordable housing for 108 people in housing need. They pulled in £3.09m in funding that would not otherwise have been available. And while renovating empty homes they provided work experience and vocational training for 644 people, 21% of whom went on into employment or further education (a further 20%). Bringing empty homes into use had a significant impact on residents’ overall sense of well-being, helping local people to feel safer and more included in their community.

Our overall findings were: 

  • Casework approaches which focus on individual properties are valuable, but they miss something we believe is of urgent concern: the pernicious impact on communities of living in areas with high levels of long-term empty homes. This is recognised as having a serious impact on the viability of communities, keeping people locked into poor housing and locked out of a safe, secure and affordable home.

  • Investing in communities to bring empty homes into use can be a better use of public resources than repeated reactive spending to deal with, for example, vandalism, anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and statutory nuisances. By renovating empty homes, communities help to address ongoing underlying issues, and they provide valuable work experience and training in the process.

 

  • Working in partnership, local authorities have a key leadership role, supporting communities to identify key areas of concern, including empty homes and a lack of secure affordable housing, and enabling them to target resources on initiatives they know will make the most difference to them.

 

  • Strategies, policies and practices should be aligned to deliver coherent multi-service outcomes rather than focusing on divisional targets. For example, working with communities to renovate empty homes as shared housing for looked after young people can provide secure supported independence, while saving significant spending on residential care.

 

  • Capital works are revenue led. People bring empty homes into use. Funders should review the revenue and core operational implications associated with capital funding and either consider incorporating a percentage of revenue to support delivery, or partner with another funder better able to provide revenue funding.

 

  • We also found that many funding bodies work in isolation and allocate funding directly in line with their own priorities and target groups. Looking across the funding sector, there are many parallel streams where funding is focussed on specific needs or specific activities, coexisting but not collaborating. Funding can achieve more as part of a jigsaw than as an individual piece.

 

Communities have a key role in providing solutions to the waste of empty homes. They address a broad range of underlying issues, provide work experience and training for local people and deliver secure affordable housing for people in housing need.

There’s lots more in our report about how community-based projects bring empty homes into use, and what local authorities, funders, housing associations and others can do to bring forward and support community initiatives in their area.

There are also recommendations for how this could better be supported nationally.

You can download Community action on empty homes: Using empty homes to regenerate communities here