The second award featured in our series about the Empty Homes Awards 2014 presented at our Conference in Birmingham in May is that for Most Innovative Intervention. This award was newly introduced last year by sponsor Carson Millican, trading as Empty Property Solutions Ltd (contactable by email). Carson, who's a long-standing member of the EHN Executive and whose expertise has been bought in by a number of London boroughs over the years, was keen for the Empty Homes Network to promote innovation and saw sponsoring this award as the best way to do so.
Winner - Action Homeless, Leicester
Action Homeless, based in Leicester, had set up a project called Action on Empty Homes which is funded under the Community Grants Programme. The award submission highlighted the partnership working and the way in which the project helped disadvantaged people both in the refurbishment phase and in the lettings of the homes:
Action Homeless is a local charity dedicated to tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness. As a local homelessness charity that has been working with homeless people over the past 40 years, we have seen first-hand the problems caused by a lack of affordable housing in Leicester. After learning that there are approximately 5000 empty properties in our community, we established Action on Empty Homes, a partnership project which aims to provide solutions which benefit people with experience of homelessness and the wider community in a number of ways.
In 2012, Action on Empty Homes was awarded £360,000 of funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government. The project is a partnership with Leicester City Council and HomeCome. As well as bringing empty homes back in to use, the project has created new and much needed units of affordable accommodation for people leaving Action Homeless’ supported accommodation. In addition, Action on Empty Homes has created a range of volunteering and employment opportunities for ex-offenders and people with experience of homelessness through our partnership with Action Trust.
To date, Action on Empty Homes has brought 10 properties back into use, creating 24 new units of accommodation for people with experience of homelessness. This year, the project aims to create a further 26 units of accommodation by bringing 10 more empty properties back into use. The new units of accommodation provide stable housing solutions to people who have experienced homelessness and are ready to leave supported accommodation. The rent is set at local Housing Allowance rates to ensure that the tenancies are affordable to people with no or low income. Action Homeless still offers low level support to all tenants of Action on Empty Homes properties to ensure a smooth transition to independent living.
Action Trust is a social enterprise which was developed and launched by Action Homeless in 2012. Action Trust provides volunteering and employment opportunities to people with experience of homelessness and ex-offenders. Action Trust recruits have been involved in the renovation of many of the properties. This has provided an opportunity for them to develop new skills and apply them in a practical setting. Action Trust volunteers and employees also play a key role in the ongoing maintenance of the properties and undertake regular cleaning and gardening tasks. Action on Empty Homes has enabled those enrolled with Action Trust to build up a portfolio of experience that they can use to secure more permanent and sustained employment, the key to independence.
Since its launch 18 months ago, Action on Empty Homes has been widely supported by the local community and has been featured in the local media on a number of occasions. The benefits of Action on Empty Homes are far reaching. The project has provided homes for single homeless men, women and families. In December 2013, two family homes were completed just in time for Christmas and two women and their children were able to move from Bridge House, a project that offers safe and secure accommodation to women and children who are fleeing domestic violence, into their own homes. A number of those who volunteer for Action Trust have been able secure a tenancy through the Action on Empty Homes project and have therefore benefitted from the project immensely.
One of the first property to be renovated by Action on Empty Homes was in the Westcotes area of Leicester and had been empty for over 3 years.
The property had been badly damaged by fire throughout and was in a completely unusable state. The extensive fire damage meant that the work required to bring it back to the Government’s decent homes standard was unaffordable to the owners of the property.
Work started on the empty property in January 2013 and over the following 3 months it underwent a huge transformation (please see images below). Much of the work was completed by Action Trust volunteers, some of whom were on day release from a local young offender’s institution. The volunteers completed the majority of painting and decorating work and assisted with the installation of a new bathroom and kitchen suite.
In April 2013, we held an open day at the Harrow Road property, inviting the local community to come and see the transformation. The day was supported by the Asda Foundation who attended to present a grant of £1976 to enable Action on Empty Homes to provide some basic household items for tenants moving into properties renovated by the project. The property was featured in the Leicester Mercury in April 2014:
The property is now home to three formerly homeless men, they have all been tenants of the property for over 12 months and are making a successful transition to independent living.
Unfortunately no one from Action Homeless was able to come to the awards ceremony. But we have some before and after pictures of their Case Study project (see end of story).
Highly Commended - Knowsley Council
The judging panel were also very impressed with Knowsely Council's submission for an Empty Dwelling Management Order project that involved an innovative use of social media by producing a Youtube video about the project. In our picture below Carson(right) is presenting the award to John Janew and Tony Doyle of Knowsley Council (left and centre). Knowsley's submission is reproduced below the picture
Knowsley Council launched a new empty homes strategy in 2011 to look at different innovative ways to successfully tackle empty homes.
One approach which has been highly successful is the use of the Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) power. One particular case which highlights how this tool can be used innovatively to open up numerous opportunities was recently demonstrated as we strived to bring a long term empty property back into use which had been vacant since 1999. The property is a two bedroom terraced property in the Whiston ward of Knowsley. Since the property first became empty, Knowsley Council had received numerous enquiries and complaints from local residents and Elected Members relating to the poor condition of the property as it had become an attraction for vermin and was serving as a magnet for anti social behaviour. Following an initial period of unsuccessfully trying to work with the owner to find a solution to bring the property back into use Knowsley Council successfully applied to the Residential Property Tribunal to make an Interim EDMO on the property.
An EDMO was considered to be the most appropriate course of action for the following reasons –
- The property owner had insufficient resources to manage and bring the property up to a rentable standard
- The property was located in an area of high demand
- Two bedroom properties are a scarce resource in Knowsley – so demand for this property type is also very high. This has only been heightened since the implementation of the ‘bedroom tax’ as people look to downsize to suitable properties.
Refurbishment and Management
Due to a lack of finances on the part of the owner the decision was taken to move the Interim EDMO to final EDMO and carry out refurbishment works in default to the property. A lease agreement was then signed with a local Registered Provider, Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT) who agreed to manage the property.
The extensive improvement works to the property consisted of -
- New kitchen,
- New bathroom,
- Full electrical rewire and a
- Full decoration of the property.
Added Value and Allocation
The Council was also able to draw on a partnership with Wetherby Building Systems Ltd who secured Energy Company Obligation (ECO) funding, which enabled the property to benefit from a new gas central heating boiler and the installation of External Wall Insulation (EWI) at no cost to the owner. These energy efficiency measures helped the property improve its Energy Performance rating from a D to a C. Expected energy bill savings due to these works will be in the region of £400 per annum which would reduce the occupier’s bills and significantly reduce the likelihood of them living in fuel poverty.
Due to the length of time the property had laid empty both the front and rear gardens were significantly overgrown with vegetation. In order to reduce the costs of the refurbishment, the Council worked with Merseyside Probation Trust who tasked their community payback team with clearing both gardens of the property. The community payback offers the chance for offenders to assist with local projects whilst learning new work and life skills whilst completing their order. Such skills can be very influential in helping an offender to stop reoffending.
Once the refurbishment of the property had been completed it was advertised through the sub-regional Choice Based Lettings allocation system Property Pool Plus. Preference was given to applicants who were under occupying their current property and consequently being affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. The property was successfully let to a resident who had been under-occupying her previous property by 2 bedrooms and so was therefore seeing a 25% reduction in her Housing Benefit of her weekly rent.
The resident said: “In my old house I had the stress of thinking about where the money was going to come from to pay the bedroom tax for the rest of my life and it was too much. Coming into this house was great and I really feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders since being here”.
“When I first came to view the house with my daughter, I was absolutely delighted. The fact that all the work had been done to it took away a lot of the stress of moving. There is a lovely feel to the house and I felt at home right away.”
By facilitating this action this has enabled a highly sought after property type to be made available and relieved the anxiety of a local resident whose significant reduction in housing benefit could have ultimately led to her becoming homeless.
Whilst an EDMO is primarily an enforcement tool the owner of the property was shown the fully refurbished property and was delighted with the outcome.
The owner said “The property looks fantastic and it just makes me wish this had happened years earlier. The support I have received from the Council has removed a huge stress for me, and seeing the property put to good use again has really given me a lift.”
In addition to taking this action the Council have also sought to utilise modern media methods via a youtube video (see below for web link) to highlight this work which is hoped will demonstrate that the Council can and will use enforcement tools to tackle empty properties where appropriate.
In summary this project demonstrates not only how an EDMO can be used to successfully bring a long term empty property back into use, but also how in doing so it can complement wider strategic aims which in the current economic climate are essential for Empty Homes officers to secure the funding to enable them to take this type of action. These include -
- Strong partnership working with local registered providers and ECO delivery partners
- Increased energy efficiency of existing housing stock complimenting wider Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) and Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) objectives of reducing carbon and Public Health objectives of reducing fuel poverty
- Contribution to the rehabilitation of offenders through use of community payback team
- Alleviating the impacts of the ‘bedroom tax’ for a local resident
- Reducing the potential risk of homelessness to a local resident
- Reducing stress for an empty property owner
- Value for money through reducing costs by making use of available ECO funding and free labour
- Supporting local businesses through targeted procurement
You can also gain a greater insight into the benefits of the scheme and see how the property was transformed on the following Youtube video link
Action Homeless Case Study
The Empty Homes Awards Ceremony was sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd.