Research shows growth in empty homes activity in the Midlands

Posted on Tuesday 8th April 2014

The Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham has today launched a case studies report following a programme of research, funded by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) and the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), to evaluate the impact of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP) in the Midlands.

This baseline study identifies the scale and nature of existing self-help housing projects in the Midlands. It explores the barriers and enablers to expansion of the sector, the wider community benefits and the direct outputs of the EHCG programme in terms of empty homes brought into use.

Of the 50 organisations on the Self-HelpHousing.org website in 2009, only one was based in the Midlands region. Now, over 20% of the EHCGP recipients are in the region, indicating that the programme has had a significant impact on the involvement of community-led projects in empty homes work in the region.

David Mullins, Professor of Housing Policy at the University of Birmingham, who led this research said: “This research shows the growth of the Midlands self-help housing sector achieved under the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme and highlights the importance of both regional networking organised by SelfHelp Housing.org and HACT and local authority support in stimulating groups to apply for funding.”

Heather Petch, Interim Director at BSHF commented: “Having played a key role in supporting the push for a community-specific strand of the Government’s Empty Homes fund, we are really delighted with the positive outcomes evidenced in this report. Given our history of supporting community-led initiatives it fits very well with BSHF’s mission.”

Projects claimed a range of benefits beyond the works to bring empty homes into use. These included opportunities for active participation for future residents in directly contributing to the works, having a say on how their home was decorated. Meanwhile there were benefits of pride and satisfaction for the workforce: "I feel the satisfaction of being able to look at the house and be like, “Yeah, I’ve done this". Benefits to neighbourhoods in which refurbished properties were located included town centre and high street uplift by bringing long term derelict buildings into use "It should have a knock-on effect into the wider economy hopefully, the wider sort of sense of pride in the town".

The importance of ongoing funding for this type of work was highlighted. "We don’t see this as money to renovate and that’s the end of the story, we see it as a seed that’s been planted, and that will grow into a forest ……………..even if the grant comes to an end, we are committed to our Empty Homes programme."

Professor Mullins commented "We have identified that the three outstanding benefits of the EHCGP in the Midlands have been to get new groups into housing; to make a real difference locally and to build independence and the ability of community-led groups to help themselves and are planning further evaluation to demonstrate the extent of these wider social benefits. For it to grow and develop there needs to be further community grants funding to bring empty private properties into use.

He continued "The potential for additional activities to manage hard to let properties for registered providers, development pipeline properties and asset transfers should also be explored. Further research on the development of these alternative strategies is urgently required."

The report

The case studies report is available for free download from www.bshf.org/publications

PRESS RELEASE

Notes for editors:

  1. For more information please contact Isobel Ashford, Head of Communications, BSHF on 01530 510444 or isobel.ashford@bshf.org or David Mullins, Professor of Housing Policy at the University of Birmingham on 0121 414 3348 or d.w.mullins@bham.ac.uk
  2. BSHF (Building and Social Housing Foundation) is an independent research charity that promotes decent and affordable housing for everyone. Established in 1976, BSHF works both in the UK and internationally to identify innovative housing solutions and to foster the exchange of information and good practice.
  3. The case studies report will be available for free download from 8 April 2014
  4. The Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) supported this and earlier research on self-help housing as part of a five year programme of work on the third sector in the UK 2008-15. Details of earlier projects can be found at: http://www.tsrc.ac.uk/Research/ServiceDeliverySD/SelfHelpHousing/tabid/615/Default.aspx.  This work, together with a Policy Consultation and follow-up work by Building and Social Housing Foundation, is recognised to have played a significant role in the establishment of an Empty Homes Community Grants (EHCG) Programme. 
  5. This research was undertaken by The Housing and Communities Research Group, led by Professor David Mullins. The Group is part of the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham and comprises seven research staff and fellows and four PhD students. It has six current research projects, mainly focused on community-led housing and the community investment role of housing associations. In the past year it has hosted international visitors from Italy, Hong Kong, Japan and Austria and holds regular seminars for policy and practice communities, through the Housing and Communities Research Network
  6. This is the first of three regional baseline summaries planned to inform evaluation of the impact of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP). The report was made possible by a grant from Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), support for transcriptions from Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) and voluntary inputs from an academic visitor from Japan and interns from Housing Associations Charitable Trust (HACT). Further resources are being sought for two other baseline studies (in North East and Yorkshire and London Regions) and a longer term evaluation of EHCGP including an audit of wider social impact.
  7. The report outlines six interim recommendations to build on the learning of this baseline study for wider discussion and debate: 
  • Set more realistic timescales and provide greater flexibility to enable new non-registered housing providers to take part in programmes such as EHCGP.
  •  Join up support and capacity building at local and regional levels to maximise impacts. There is also scope for more coordinated support and to explore ‘buddying’ type partnership models to harness housing association’s expertise.
  • Undertake a social audit of the wider impact of the projects through a low burden self-assessment framework to inform future investment, transfer learning and improve future practice.
  • Promote Organisational sustainability for community-led groups through continued opportunities to engage in housing and where possible to grow their asset base.
  • Overcome barriers to accessing properties by improving understanding of property owners and enabling community led groups to take on empty or poorly managed social housing and ‘meanwhile use’ of long term empties in development pipelines. 
  • Stimulate continued bold and innovative thinking by community-led groups and thereby unleash resources of creativity to take on the biggest challenges in street level regeneration.