Empty Homes Network

EHN Manifesto-Meter reveals weak policies on empty homes

First page of EHN Manifesto-Meter

An analysis of seven party manifestos reveals little to get excited about when it comes to proposals for tackling empty homes. 

The comparison of the policies in the manifestos, details of which can be found in our "Manifesto-Meter", took the five key points in the Empty Homes Network's Filling the Empties policy position paper as the benchmark against which the various manifestos were evaluated.  Up to five stars were available in each category depending how closely the party proposals matched our own suggested policies, and taking into account the relative importance of the individual proposals overall. 

Given the understandably restricted amount of detail to be found in the manifestos, the evaluation took other sources of policy into account, such as recent policy statements by senior politicians (eg Labour's commitment to abolishing New Homes Bonus), or reasonable inferences from other policies (eg trickle-down effects from significantly increased capital spending on affordable homes), and shows these as lighter-coloured stars.

The analysis mostly focuses on positive. practical proposals, but does also look take into account proposals that might be considered negative: Labour earns itself the only (light) red stars for its proposal (not contained in the manifesto)  to abolish New Homes Bonus without any suggestions as to what might take its place as an accepted incentive for local authorities to tackle empty homes in their areas.

The Manifesto-Meter is expected to attract attention from around the world, heralding a new breakthrough in cosmology (and one which, incidentally, has been achieved much more cheaply than CERN's Large Hadron Collider): the star-chart (see below) provides compelling evidence  that the mysterious dark matter being sought by astro-physicists actually consists of missing policies on empty homes.

EHA presses candidates on empty homes stance

Empty Homes Agency Chief Executive Helen Williams is pushing Parliamentary candidates in England to commit to doing more about empty homes in the runup to the General Election on May 7th.

Candidates from all the main parties have been sent emails which EHA says "has prompted a good deal of interest, pledges and tweets across the political spectrum." 

Email to prospective parliamentary candidates:  

Dear Candidate

Empty Homes Agency campaign to reduce long-term empty homes

At the Empty Homes Agency, we are asking all prospective parliamentary candidates to pledge to support the reduction of long-term empty homes to help meet housing need in England.

According to latest government council taxbase data, there are over 200,000 homes recorded as long-term empty (that is empty for six or more months) in England. These homes can be brought back into use to help meet housing needs. Properties that lie empty can blight neighbourhoods, represent a waste of our housing assets and mean we are underutilising brownfield land that could readily provide much needed homes. 

Recent research from the Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency found that more than three quarters of British adults (78%) believe that central government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes. Over a third (36%) also said that empty homes are a blight on their local area.

Recent governments have given priority to the issue of empty homes and this has helped local authorities, housing organisations and property owners bring empty homes back into use across England. But there is still much to do and there is a risk that the number of long-term empty homes will climb back up again without concerted action by the next government.

If you agree with our aim to reduce the number of long-term empty homes, please email policy@emptyhomes.com to pledge your support.  We would also appreciate you tweeting/publicising your support for our campaign.  We have drafted a possible tweet for you to use below.

I’m pledging my support to reduce the number of long term empty homes – are you? RT your support. #NoMoreEmptyHomes.

Fuller details of recent EHA campaigning initiatives can be found on the EHA website here.

Regeneration preferred to demolition according to yougov research

Callcredit screenshot

Research commissioned by Callcredit Information Group reveals that there is a strong preference for retaining empty homes and regeneration rather than replacing them with new homes.

The research was conducted online by Yougov on 9th-10th April and involved 1,782 adults, with figures weighted to be representative of all UK adults.  Callcredit sell their data so we have not been able to analyse it any further than the information provided in their press release, which can be found here.

The key point for empty homes practitioners is reported as follows:

Callcredit’s research highlights a need for local authorities to look at their existing housing stock and better understand which long-term empty properties could be brought back into use to help address the needs of the 1.37 million households that are on waiting lists for social housing. This is shown with the stark difference between the 58 per cent preferring regeneration and bringing back into use of dilapidated and empty housing compared to 26 per cent opting for the replacement of dilapidated and empty housing with newly built housing.

The results were also reported on the localgov website here.

Life in the Lakes - April

Life in the Lakes - April 2015

I was thinking about what I could write in this month’s blog, and then I remembered I’d had an unusual one recently which finally came to a successful conclusion, in a very round-a-bout way.  Sort of ‘thinking outside the box’ solution…

It started off with an owner of  two  local empty homes, who was also the occupier of a third local house.  When I wrote to him (quite a few times over the years) about his two  empties, he always replied with a beautifully handwritten letter.  He had been looking after his elderly mum in a different part of the country, and she eventually died.  He also had regular periods of ill health himself.  I always tried with my replies to him to be sympathetic, but to offer support and advice.  I’m sure you’ve all had an experience along these lines … lots of patience needed!

Anyway, one day he wrote back saying did I know of anyone who would be interested in his own ‘occupied’ home.  Cue another email around this time from a lady who wanted to buy this home (she had thought it looked empty).  I wrote to the occupier again saying I had a buyer interested in his ‘occupied’ home.  Cue (sadly) more illness and hospital treatment for the empty home owner.

But to cut a (very) long story short (4 years worth, which included complaints from neighbours), the owner finally moved from his occupied house, repaired his empty homes (now living in one and using the other for storage).  This previously occupied home then became a ‘proper’ empty home, the potential buyer and empty home owner were ‘matched’ via myself, sales negotiations took place between both, and hey presto in March the sale finally went through.  I went to have a look at the major renovations now taking place and everyone involved seems to be very happy with the outcome.

And the lessons I have learned from this one is a) always try to think ‘outside the box’ – not every solution is a tried and tested one, but it may be the right one for a particular owner and property,  b) always try to keep in contact with these very long-term owners, offering to help them – they tend to remember your sympathetic approach as opposed to the ‘big stick’ c) persistence can really pay off!

Did you come up with a ‘creative’ solution to any of your long term empties?

Lynne Campbell, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

 

Compulsory Purchase Order Consultation - deadline for responses 9th June

18 Mar 2015
9 Jun 2015
Event Description: 

Deadline for responses to the government's "Technical consultation on improvements to compulsory purchase processes."

 

Contact details: 

Empty homes features second in housing policy popularity

Table of housing policies by popularity

A Yougov poll on behalf of the Homeowners Alliance shows that the second most popular housing policy, amongst those currently put forward by the major parties leading up to the election, is Labour's policy to allow councils to charge more council tax on empty homes.

Survey results

The most popular policy, with 80% for and only 3% against was "Require homes to be marketed in the UK first" (the other 17% of the responses are "don't knows" or "neither agree nor disagree"). This is a Conservative policy that is mainly relevant (practically, not politically) in London. There is a possibility that this might be more appropriately regarded as an "immigration/xenophobia-related" issue rather than truly a housing issue as it is certainly not a widespread problem around the country and even in London tends to affect only the most expensive homes that few in the population could afford even if marketed in the UK first (see an blog post in the Guardian for some discussion of this).  This interpretation is somewhat supported by the fact that the region showing strongest support for this policy was the whiter-than-white South West with 89% "for".  If this is a live issue day-to-day in the South-West it has somehow escaped the notice of the media.

Be that as it may, the second most popular policy is "Higher council tax for homes left empty", a Labour policy, with 70% for and 13% against.

The third most popular policy is additional council tax on homes worth over £2million (NB this is NOT the fabled mansion tax, where the receipts go to the government) (68% for, 11% against).

Labour risks ambush

Labour and empty homes practitioners can take heart from the importance attached by the survey respondents to the empty homes issue.  But Labour risks being ambushed unless it comes out with a clear alternative to the New Homes Bonus as an incentive for local authorities to tackle empty homes.

NHB has been credited by the National Audit Office with successfully incentivising local authorities to do more about empty homes, yet Labour is now committed to abolishing it. That would be all well and good (given the widely-perceived downside of NHB as an incentive for new housebuilding ) if Labour came out with an alternative for empty homes, such as the one floated by us in our policy document (see p.9 Incentives For Councils and Endnote 27).  As it stands, however, it will not be hard for one of the other parties - particularly one of the Coalition partners - to point to their own record, which involves not only council tax changes but targeted funding streams and NHB incentives, and to cast Labour's single proposal as pretty anaemic. More specifically, they can say that there could be more empty homes under a Labour administration because of its determination to abolish a measure (ie. NHB) that is documented as helping bring empties back into use. Labour doesn't currently have an answer to this criticism and its vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that it is the only party (as far as we know) that is committed to a policy likely to undermine efforts to tackle empty homes: it can therefore be attacked from any political direction. 

The survey

Full details of the survey can be found on the HomeOwners Alliance website here. There were 2184 respondents.

Empty Homes Awards 2015 - deadline for submissions - 29th April

29 Apr 2015
29 Apr 2015
Event Description: 

Please get your submissions to us at events@ehnetwork.org.uk by midnight on Wednesday, 29th April.

For full details of the award categories and how to make submissions see our news story here:

Contact details: 

Empty Homes Awards 2015 - your submissions

Empty Homes Awards 2015 open for entries

Every year we present awards to recognise excellence in empty homes work at our Annual Conference at a ceremony sponsored by Grafton UK Ltd.

We'd love to get your submissions for these awards - by midnight, Wednesday, 29th April please.  Submissions should be clear and to the point and no more than two sides of A4 or the equivalent in an email, per award.

The four awards are as follows.


Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year Award 2015

Sponsored for a fifth year by Grafton UK Ltd.

Please tell us why the nominated person deserves the award.  We are interested in any of the following:

  • innovation
  • dedication
  • organisation
  • .... and/or any other quality or achievement that you think deserves recognition.

Don't be embarrassed to nominate yourself.  Empty Homes Practitioners often work on their own and don't have colleagues that know how good they are!


Most Innovative Intervention Award 2015

Sponsored by Empty Property Solutions Ltd.

Empty property practitioners excel at providing a range of solutions to the problem of wasted homes.

This new award is intended to recognise creative and original interventions that resulted in a problem long term empty property being returned to use.

Let us know how you made it happen. And we'll hope to feature your intervention in a new Case Studies section on the website.

 


Best LA/Community Housing Organisation Partnership Award 2015

Jointly sponsored by Habitat for Humanity Homes and Empty Homes Network   

Recent research by David Mullins and Halima Sacranie*  highlights the importance of partnership for organisations funded through CLG’s  Community Grants Programme.  The contribution made by partnerships between community based housing organisations and local authorities is particularly evident in the research report.  We welcome submissions from either or both that demonstrate one or more of the following

  • how a local authorities and community housing organisations have helped one another achieve their objectives
  • excellence in the partnership framework employed by the partners

If the submission is from one particular organisation, we’ll look to get evidence that the submission is supported by the other partner(s). 

Gareth Hepworth, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, and Nick Pritchard-Gordon, Chair of Empty Homes Network, have said: “We are very pleased to be able to support this award, highlighting the excellent work being done jointly by councils and community-based housing organisations.


LA/Housing Association Partnership of the Year Award 2014

Sponsored by London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Partnerships between local authorities and housing associations can also play a vital part in bringing empty homes back into use.   Since the 1990s, such partnerships have often declined or disappeared, but the HCA’s empty homes funding programme has helped rebuild a culture of joint working.  London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, as a local authority with a strong commitment to bringing empty homes work back into use, is keen to see best practice documented and recognised.

We welcome submissions that

  • highlight the results achieved  by local authorities and housing associations working together either strategically or or a specific programme
  • document the partnership mechanisms that have produced those results.

Judging Panel

The Empty Homes Awards will be judged by a panel chaired by Nick Pritchard-Gordon (Chair of the Empty Homes Network and Empty Homes Officer at Reading Borough Council), Andrew Lavender of Housing Training and Law Consultancy Ltd, Jon Fitzmaurice, OBE, Director of self-help-housing.org, and a representative of the sponsoring organisation for each award.  In the event of a tie, Nick Pritchard-Gordon will have a casting vote.

Please note: the Practitioner of the Year award is only available to Full Members of the Empty Homes Network (Corporate, Collective or Individual).

Sorry but we can’t offer free or discounted Conference attendance fees to the winners.  However, there will be a photo opportunity during the Conference and we publish and make available pictures of winners receiving their awards.

Please send your nominations to events@ehnetwork.org.uk

*(Evaluation of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP) - Midlands region, Baseline Case Studies Report: Housing and Communities Research Group, University of Birmingham, April 2014)

The Empty Homes Conference 2015 is sponsored by Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd.

Gold Conference Supporters

 

Liverpool "Homes for a Pound" scheme - major expansion on cards

Liverpool City Council's Cabinet Committee is to consider a major expansion of the "Homes For A Pound" scheme at its meeting on April 2nd, to be dubbed "Homes For A Pound Plus".

A report in the Liverpool Echo also features some video clips of a house that has already been refurbished through the 20-property pilot scheme. Now the aim is to bring another 150 properties into the initiative in the Picton area  An innovative aspect of the new proposal is a pilot "Shops For A Pound" strand, addressing vacancy in the commercial units on nearbby Smithdown Road, an A-road leading into the city from Speke and Widnes.

The homes scheduled to be brought into the scheme seem to be in a "clearance area" and the Council is intending to ask the HCA to release it from charges on the properties which it acknowledges are being sold at less-than-best value.  This will be an interesting part of the exercise and highlights the rarely-ackonwledged aspect that such schemes do involve a transfer of value from the public sector to the private sector. It is never clear in these cases whether the homes might instead be sold for £100, £1,000 or £10,000. The "£1 home" is a powerful brand however.

Key sections of the Cabinet Report read as follows:

Executive Summary

On 19 December 2014 Cabinet adopted a Ten Point Plan for bringing a further 2,000 empty properties back into use. This set out a number of initiatives for tackling empty homes. The report included a proposal to introduce ‘Homes for a Pound Plus’ which builds on the success of the Homes for a Pound pilot scheme.

This report outlines the plans for bringing forward ‘Homes for a Pound Plus’ which will deliver an extra circa 150 homes brought back into use with a particular focus on regenerating the Picton area. The report also details proposals for a small scale Shop for a Pound scheme to be piloted in the Picton area as part of a comprehensive approach to neighbourhood regeneration.

Background

In February 2013, Cabinet approved a homesteading programme for the Granby Four Streets, Arnside Road and the Webster Triangle area of the City. This programme was called Homes for a Pound and attracted considerable media attention and public interest by offering 20 homes for eligible applicants for £1. This report also made reference to the adjacent Picton Phase 3 (clearance area) and it is now proposed that a project is developed to refurbish void properties in the Picton Phase 3 area alongside Webster Triangle.

A formal application process was launched in April 2013 with clear eligibility criteria and conditions. To be eligible applicants needed to live or work in Liverpool, be first time buyers and be in employment. Selected applicants would be required to live in the property for a minimum of five years and not permitted to sub-let it. The scheme was massively oversubscribed and all 20 available homes have now been matched with relevant applicants.

The selected properties have been made available to the successful applicants through a licence agreement initially while the refurbishment works are undertaken. On satisfactory completion of the works the ownership of the property is transferred to the purchaser.

The Homes for a Pound pilot has been positive for a number of reasons:

  • It has levered in around £750,000 of private investment in long term vacant dwellings;
  • The scheme has complemented other regeneration initiatives going on in the target areas;
  • It has provided home ownership opportunities for people who would otherwise have been excluded due to mortgage lending restrictions; and,
  • The pilot has enabled the development of a delivery model that includes a robust assessment process, an appropriate legal agreement and suitable insurance cover.

Homes for a Pound Plus:

The Cabinet report of 19 December 2014 signalled the intention to build on the success of the pilot scheme by expanding the scope and extent of this approach. The key elements of Homes for a Pound Plus will be as follows:

  • A focus on circa 150 Council owned properties in the Picton area which are currently void. The properties will be split into five separate phases based upon condition and geography with each phase released to the market sequentially to avoid market saturation and better manage demand;
  • Exploration with relevant social landlords to include void properties they own within the scheme;
  • Undertaking of remedial structural works on those properties in particularly poor condition to make them viable for the Homes for a Pound approach;
  • A review of the current waiting list to establish whether those who applied in April 2013 are still eligible and interested in the scheme;
  • Opportunities for new applicants to express an interest in the scheme; and,
  • The development of a financial assistance product for applicants who are not in a position to fund refurbishments from their own resources.

This package of measures building on the development of the new Archbishop Blanch secondary school to the west of Tunstall Street offers a clear plan for the regeneration of Picton.

Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Charges

There are HCA charges registered against the properties and agreement will be required with the HCA to release their charges in order for the Council to dispose of the properties. The agreement for release with the HCA will need to be documented by a deed of variation to the current agreement with the HCA.

Shops for a Pound

The Council currently owns a number of shop units along the Smithdown Road corridor abutting the proposed Homes for a Pound Plus area in Picton. These shops are currently vacant, require investment and are in an area where it will be difficult to find a viable commercial future for the shops.

Leaving these shops vacant or failing to find a sustainable future for the units would significantly impact upon the proposed Homes for a Pound Plus initiative. It is therefore proposed that the Director for Regeneration and Employment be requested to develop a ‘Shops for a Pound’ scheme for these units – exploring the opportunities to either sell off or lease the units to businesses who would be able to invest in the sites and bring them back into a use in a manner that would be appropriate and add value to the local community.

A potential sting in the tail is whether the Crichel Down rules are engaged, as the homes were bought under "threat of compulsion". The normal arrangement would be that the homes should be offered back to the original owners at market value. The owners might have been private landlords. The Cabinet report discusses the Crichel Down rules in the following terms:

This government policy guidance outlines how properties acquired for regeneration under Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) powers or threat of CPO are ‘offered back’ to previous owners, should the original purpose of the acquisition change. As the properties to be included in the scheme were acquired under the “threat” of compulsion the Crichel Down Rules (“Rules”) are prima facie engaged.

There is an expectation that public bodies comply with the Rules and the Council has taken Counsel’s advice on the application of this policy for this proposed new scheme. The Council are advised that the Council’s Cabinet are to determine if the Homes for a Pound Plus and Shops for a Pound are exempt from the Rules and the requirement to ‘offer back’ the ‘land’ (at it’s current market value) does not apply. An exemption could apply as selling the properties back to the original owners is not likely to achieve the original purpose of the acquisition i.e. to improve housing quality, choice and amenity and that offering the properties back would be inconsistent with the original project (paragraph 15 (part 5) of Part 2 of Circular 06/2004). It is submitted that this is the case because the aim of the acquisitions was to deliver a step change in housing conditions in the area, and it is likely that the sale of the properties back to the same owners would result in the same issues as existed previously, whereas the proposed Homes for a Pound Plus scheme will ensure that the properties are improved to a decent standard.

Should the Council’s Cabinet agree that the proposed project is exempt from the Rules and offering the properties back to the original owner does not apply, the Council will need to write to all persons from whom property was purchased to notify them of the change in the proposed regeneration scheme and that ‘offering the property back to them’ is exempt from the Rules and that it is reasonable that for the Council to achieve the original housing objectives it is not required to ‘offer back’ the properties at full market value to the original owner. Notices will also be placed on the site for a period of two weeks to ensure other interested parties are aware.

This is one of the points (Point 9) identified by George Clarke in his advice about regeneration, advice which seems to have become policy and which the Council (or its developer PlusDane) has already fallen foul of in the case of the Welsh Streets redevelopment proposals. In principle, one would have thought that the rules would have to be applied case-by-case: in other words, some previous owners might well be capabel of producing the improvements in quality of housing that underpinned the original clearance programme.

Development Benefit pilots fall flat

Over the last few months, at meetings or via the website, EHN members have been alerted to the possible risks to New Homes Bonus implied by the government's desire to introduce a "development benefit" that would offer financial rewards to people living near new housing developments.

Given that rewarding people for accepting development was one of the key justifications for the New Homes Bonus, the Development Benefit proposal looked like an alternative - one that might be cheaper and which would perhaps not be subject to the same criticisms levelled at NHB by the likes of the Audit Commission or Commons Committees.  In short, it looked like a risk to the work done by empty homes practitioners: if the reward no longer went to the local authority but directly to local residents, it would undermining one of the important justifications for empty homes work in the age of austerity, namely that it produces New Homes Bonus.

This particular risk seems to have been averted for now, however.  DCLG has announced (26th March 2015) that it is not going to proceed with the pilots. The foot of the web-page for the Development Benefit consultation explains:

Only 3 expressions of interest were submitted for this pilot. However, the initial attitudinal research to support the pilots has revealed some interesting insights into the opposition to development. We are looking into how opposition to development transmits into the planning system and the potential role of financial incentives in changing this.

We have decided not to proceed with pilots at this time.