The final award for 2015 that remains to be highlighted before we invite submissions for the 2016 Awards is the Most Innovative Intervention Award, sponsored by Carson Millican, trading as Empty Property Solutions Ltd. (and contactable by email if you'd like to find out more).
Carson is a long-standing member of the EHN Executive and is currently our representative for Northern Ireland, where he originaly hails from. His expertise has been bought in by a number of London boroughs over the years. He worked for the East London Renewal Partnership and currently provides services to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
Carson was keen for the Empty Homes Network to promote innovation and saw sponsoring this award as the best way to do so. The Award has been aimed at interventions to bring individual properties back into use.
Leeds Empties - outright winners
There was a lot of competition for this award in 2015, but the overall winners were Leeds Empties for their work bringing a long-term empty home back into use. The Winners' Award was presented by Nick Pritchard-Gordon, Chair of the Empty Homes Network (standing left in the picture), to Gill Coupland and Jo Widdop, the two Empty Homes Doctors from Leeds Empties (standing second left and second right respectively). Award sponsor Carson Millican is standing to the right in the picture.
Leeds Empties Submission
Leeds Empties is a social enterprise which works alongside Leeds City Council’s Empty Homes Team to bring empty homes back into use in Leeds. We provide an Empty Homes Doctor service, which offers free, intensive support to owners of empty homes to help them to bring their home back into use.
The Empty Homes Team at Leeds City Council got in touch with us in May 2014 about a long-term empty property in inner-city Leeds. They had been in touch with the owners but were making little progress – and thought we may be able to help.
We got in touch with the owners with an offer to help. The three bedroom terraced house had been empty seven years. It was owned by an older couple, who moved out of the house when they split up seven years ago.
When we offered to meet them at the property, Mr G explained that he hadn’t visited the house for over two years – and wasn’t sure where the keys were for the security shutters which had been placed over the doors and windows.
We did some research and found out who had installed the shutters – and acquired a spare set of keys. With Mr G’s permission we went to view the property. It was in a very poor state of repair – and pigeons had made the attic room their home, having gained access through a hole in the roof. The Council had recently undertaken works to ensure that the house didn’t cause damage to the houses on either side.
After our visit we met with Mr G and talked through all options. He was clear that he wanted to sell – and having spoken with estate agents and auctioneers it was clear that a house in such a poor condition was most likely to sell at auction.
However, we were aware that local social enterprise Latch were keen to buy empty homes in the area, part-funded by Empty Homes Community Grants. So we approached Latch on behalf of Mr G. They were very keen on the property, and after undertaking a survey, made an offer to Mr G. This offer was at the higher end of what the auctioneers had suggested as a likely sale price – and Latch were also in a position to complete the sale quickly – which suited Mr G’s circumstances.
Once he had decided to sell to Latch, we worked with Mr G to instruct local solicitors Advantage Property Lawyers – who offered discounted conveyancing on the sale. We also held keys for the property, to arrange access for Latch to complete a survey.
Neither Mr G nor his ex-partner could find ID – which was required to complete the sale. We helped them to obtain copies of their Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificate.
Leeds City Council had a charge against the property – for works that they carried out to ensure that the house didn’t cause damage to neighbouring properties. We liaised with the council to deal with the legal work in relation to this charge – to ensure that it did not delay the sale of the house. As a result of the sale, Leeds City Council was able to reclaim over £7,000 in charges and interest for work they carried out on the property.
In working with Mr G, it became clear that he did not have a will – so we arranged for him to prepare one – and we also worked with him and his family to sort out Powers of Attorney, in case they are required in the future.
After 7 years empty, the sale was completed within 4 months of Mr G responding to our offer of help. The house has been refurbished by Latch to high standards of environmental sustainability, with support from a range of funders including Empty Homes Community Grants, and Leeds Community Foundation. Support from local funder Jimbo’s Fund enabled Latch to offer volunteering opportunities during the refurbishment of the house.
Highlights of the approach
We believe this case is a good example of the innovative approach that we take to bringing empty homes back into use in Leeds:
- Tailored, responsive service: We rang Mr G on the day that the Council passed his details to us – and 2 days later – once we’d tracked down a spare set of keys for the security shutters – we visited the property.
- We explore all options with owners: our detailed Empty Homes Doctor report outlined a range of options for the owner – including refurbishment, rental, sale through agent and sale through auction. Our strong links with local empty homes social enterprises meant that we were aware that Latch would be interested in this home.
- We work with an owner every step of the way until their home is back in use. We worked closely with Mr G, breaking down a complicated situation into manageable steps, including:
- finding replacement keys for the security shutters
- arranging access for estate agents and auctioneers to do valuations
- liaising with Latch to agree a purchase price
- negotiating discounted conveyancing
- liaising with the council to sort out payment of the charge against the property for deferred works – and ensuring it didn’t delay the sale of the house
- helping to obtain replacement Birth and Marriage Certificates
- helping to arrange Power of Attorney and preparation of a will.
- We act quickly – after seven years empty, the home was sold to Latch within four months of us contacting Mr G.
- We secure income for the local authority. Leeds City Council was able to reclaim over £7,000 for works in default on the property – alongside the New Homes Bonus that it can claim as a result of bringing the home back into use.
- Our intervention frees up Council officer time so that they can work on other empty homes.
We also engaged a local film-maker to produce a film to tell the story of bringing this home back into use. He has followed the story from Latch taking on the property, through to it being lived in again.
We also got local media coverage for bringing this home back into use – including
The short film which tells the story of the transformation of this home will be available in early May.
The judging panel was keen to recognise another strong contender, namely the Stoke "£1 House" scheme. This well-known scheme earned a Highly Commended award. Zainul Pirmohamed, who received the award on behalf of Stoke City Council, had already won the Practitioner of the Year Award earlier in the day (see our story here).
In other circumstances, the Stoke scheme might have been the category winner, but the emphasis has always been on individual properties rather than schemes. However, in 2016 that will change: the award has been retitled simply "Innovation Award" and we won't distinguish between schemes and individual interventions.
The Award was presented to Zainul by Nick Pritchard-Gordon (left) and Carson Millican (right).
Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘£1 houses’ project
Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘£1 houses’ project has delivered an innovative solution for bringing a cluster of 33 empty properties back into use. The cost-effective scheme has not only enabled hard-working people on modest salaries to buy homes they would not otherwise be able to afford, it has helped to regenerate a run-down area, added to a sense of community for residents and helped to tackle social issues.
The project involved renovating properties in the Portland Street area of Stoke-on-Trent and selecting suitable buyers to pay a nominal £1 for the finished homes. The new owners also agreed to repay the £30,000 renovation costs through a 10-year low-interest loan, with repayments being invested in bringing more empty homes back into use, ensuring on-going returns on taxpayers’ investment.
A focus on tackling social challenges, alongside the physical regeneration and the up-front investment, makes this project unique. Other authorities have attempted to sell clusters of empty homes for £1, but none have taken the risk of investing in up-front renovation work while also addressing both the physical and social aspects of regeneration. As a result, Stoke-on-Trent’s initiative has sparked considerable interest, not only around the UK, but across Europe and even to Russia and China.
£1 houses - a blueprint for holistic transformation
The project began in 2012 when the number of empty homes in Stoke-on-Trent approached 5,000, prompting a quest for new ways of bringing more properties back into use. It coincided with the council’s project to clear dozens of substandard homes in parts of the city affected by housing blight to make way for new high-quality homes as part of a massive regeneration strategy due to be completed in 2015.
Funding withdrawal in 2010 had resulted in considerable numbers of boarded up homes and none of the anticipated government money to fund demolition or refurbishment. This continued until 2012 when the council secured £1.5million from the Clusters of Empty Homes Fund, which it matched with its own capital funding.
While much of this funding was used as part of a long-term approach working with owners to bring 124 long-term empty properties back into use across the city, the council spotted an opportunity to use the funding in an innovative way to transform 33 properties around Portland Street in one fell swoop.
These empty homes required considerable renovation to make them habitable. However, the potential rewards included the chance to address the high density of privately rented properties, as well as social problems and market failure. The council decided that by shouldering the risk of the up-front investment it would be well placed to select suitable buyers who would become owner-occupiers and support efforts to regenerate the area.
The authority worked with its housing repairs partner, Kier Stoke, to carry out intensive renovation work, which started in December 2013 and was completed in June 2014.
A bright new future - for just £1
With a clear strategic direction to make Stoke-on-Trent a great place to live where residents are able to live independent and healthy lives, the project team devised a set of criteria for applicants to help ensure that the buyers would not only be able to afford to repay the £30,000 loan, but would also actively support the revitalisation of the surrounding community.
The selection process prioritised applicants with strong local connections to the area, who were earning modest salaries that would ordinarily put home ownership beyond their reach. The buyers also signed agreements to live in their £1 homes for at least five years without selling or renting the property.
The council team also worked to build up links between the successful buyers and the existing residents to foster a sense of community spirit from the outset. In addition, the team worked closely with partners, including Staffordshire Police and the council’s Environmental Crime, Housing Standards and Localities teams on a campaign to address stubborn social issues that presented potential barriers to social and housing market renewal. As part of this holistic package, £300,000 was set aside to fund environmental improvements in the area, including new community facilities.
Impact of the scheme
The city council’s empty homes strategy is one of the central tenets of the council’s commitment to making Stoke-on-Trent a great place to live in, and the £1 homes scheme has become one of the most renowned and effective parts of that strategy.
The project has been held up by other local authorities as an example of best practice and the success of the scheme is contributing to attracting further housing funding from government with Stoke-on-Trent recently announced as one of 11 vanguard areas to benefit from the new Right to Build scheme and the biggest single recipient of Right to Buy Social Mobility Fund money.
“Moving into our own home is very exciting and a fantastic opportunity for us. We are finally achieving our goal of getting onto the property ladder – something we never thought we would be able to afford to do.” Matthew Thompson and Kasie Czarna, the first people to move into one of the £1 homes.
“Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s inspirational £1 homes project has proved their commitment to a dynamic restoration of a deeply flawed built environment. The unquestioned success of the promotion has proved beyond doubt that there is an appetite for this kind of exciting project. In tandem with clever and sensitive restoration of parts of Hanley, this is strong evidence that the management of the city council is in touch with best practice and contemporary thinking in urban renewal.” Matthew Rice, author and co-owner of pottery manufacturer Emma Bridgewater.