Self-help housing ‘involves groups of local people bringing back into use empty properties that are in limbo, awaiting decisions about their future use or redevelopment. It differs from self-build housing which involves constructing permanent homes from scratch’ (www.self-help-housing.org). This is usually based on a time-limited licence or lease, but sometimes on a permanent basis, and there are possibilities for asset transfer. Models of self-help housing range from informal community housing projects, to social enterprises that also involve construction skills and other training for homeless people, young people, refugees and other disadvantaged groups.
Self-help housing responds to the 'bigger picture' of entrenched problems in society today, including homelessness and unmet housing needs, empty homes and unemployment. It helps tackle planning blight, neighbourhood dereliction and fear of crime, and increase the level of construction skills, local economic activity and enterprise. Yet despite these potential benefits self-help housing remains a small scale and largely unrecognised part of the housing third sector. TSRC research has been looking at the reasons behind these limitations to self-help housing, exploring the ways in which its potential could be harnessed by local groups and key partners and the kind of policies that might enable this.
Self-help housing - toward a greater role
Case Study Report 54
This case study report is one of a series of outputs from TSRC research on self-help housing. It was produced to present evidence drawn from eight case studies of a variety of models of self-help housing in different local contexts to inform a consultation with policy makers, funders, umbrella groups and self-help housing projects held at St George’s House, Windsor in December 2010. The report describes the case study projects and potential benefits of self-help housing in meeting a variety of public policy outcomes, and presents evidence on the barriers and enablers and critical success factors found in the case studies. It raises a number of questions that were explored further in the Consultation event leading to policy recommendations. It is published here to provide wider access to the TSRC research data on which the Consultation report, published by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) draws.
The TSRC research that preceded this work (Mullins, 2010) is below.
See also a separate briefing paper on implications for tackling homelessness (Teasdale et al, 2011)
Self-help housing scoping paper
Briefing and working paper 11
Self-help housing constitutes a small part of the housing-related Third Sector. However it epitomises a form of bottom-up organisation that once played a more important role, particularly in the late 1970s when municipal housing schemes were delayed by public spending cuts, leaving empty properties which had already been acquired, and were then brought into use by 'short-life groups'. Now there would appear to be a similar opportunity in the context of reductions in public expenditure and policy support for self-help. Self-help housing seems to tick all the right boxes in offering a low-cost approach to meeting community housing needs (particularly for single people and couples who are not usually given priority for social housing), and maintaining some momentum in regeneration programmes while offering work training and experience to those participating.
However, while there are a number of successful self-help projects, these are generally small scale and 'below the radar'. To be successful, self-help housing organisations need to secure a supply of properties, funding, volunteers and residents. Further research is required to identify how these success conditions can be met, drawing on the experience of self-help housing projects from the different organisational models identified above in different local contexts. It will be important to relate these experiences to contemporary policy and financial drivers and to use the research to engage with policy makers, property owners and funders and with self-help models in other service areas.