Connecting the dots: the potential for self-help housing to address homelessness

Briefing Paper 53 - February 2011

According to the Homes and Communities Agency there were an estimated 784,000 vacant dwellings in England in September 2009, most of which are in the private sector.

1,800,000 households are on the waiting list for social housing (Shapps, 2010) and according to New Philanthropy Capital there were around 260,000 people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in 2008 (New Philanthropy Capital, 2008).

Many homeless people face multiple disadvantages through a lack of skills, and long periods away from the labour market. The rapid rise in unemployment since 2008 has meant homeless people face increased competition for a decreased number of jobs.

Self-help housing may offer the potential to provide joined-up solutions to the problems of homelessness, empty properties and long term unemployment. It involves groups of local people bringing back into use empty properties that are in limbo, awaiting decisions about their future use or redevelopment. It involves the procurement of empty homes from their owners usually on a time-limited licence or lease, but sometimes permanently. Users may be involved in undertaking or commissioning the work to make properties habitable, and there may be options for asset transfer where this can be agreed with the owner.

This report highlights the opportunities and barriers facing self–help housing organisations, and suggests ways in which self-help housing might play a greater role in responding to the single homelessness crisis.

This report was commissioned by Crisis and carried out by the Third Sector Research Centre. The full report is available from their website.


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