Empty Homes Partnership Award - #1

This Award was relaunched in 2018 with the very welcome support of Cromwood Social, represented by Abdus Saleh at October's Empty Homes Conference. 

With Abdus’s support Cromwood had previously sponsored other awards, but the partnership award they sponsored this year was a natural fit for them – as those authorities that have worked with Cromwood have always be happy to testify. (It’s worth noting here that the Network only accepts sponsorship from organisations that we believe can make a genuine contribution to the work practitioners do).

In previous years,  there have been specific categories for different types of partnership – between local authorities and housing associations, between local authorities and community groups – but this year we left the type of partnership open. The fact that all the submissions featured local authorities is a good reminder about the central role that councils play in bringing empty homes back into use. 

There were two winners this year. Today’s piece features the partnership between Hull City Council and Giroscope.

This is not the first time that Hull and Girsocope have been involved in an Empty Homes Partnership Award, but the circumstances involved this time were particularly challenging, as their winning submission (reproduced below the photograph) makes plain.  Regrettably, no one was available from Giroscope so the award certificate was accepted on behalf of both organisations by Hull CC Empty Property Officer Chrissie Cooper.

Partnership Award Submission – Giroscope & Hull City Council

Through our strong, successful and innovative partnership, Giroscope and Hull City Council (HCC) have succeeded in delivering housing regeneration in what was the most challenging neighbourhood in the City of Hull.

In 2012 HCC and Giroscope came together with five other community organisations to successfully deliver an ambitious government-funded empty homes programme. Through this partnership 585 homes were brought into use before government funding for community organisations ceased. In 2014 the wider partnership won ‘Best LA/Community Housing Organisation Partnership Award’ at the empty homes conference.

Since then, despite the lack of government funding, the partnership between HCC and Giroscope has gone from strength to strength with both organisations finding innovative and creative ways to secure funding and refurbish and manage empty homes and to tackle neighbourhood issues.

Wellsted Street and its neighbouring Gee Street, shown on the map at Appendix A, have been and continue to be a key priority for empty homes work for Giroscope and HCC. In 2012 at the start of the formal empty homes partnership between the two organisations a total of 60 properties out of the 167 were empty. Due to the challenging nature of the street, no other empty homes partner would address properties in the area. HCC and Giroscope therefore teamed up and implemented a zero tolerance policy for empty homes in the area. Since then significant inroads in the physical regeneration of the street have been made including reducing the number of empty homes to just four properties and delivering external solid wall insulation and frontage improvements. Two key properties on the street highlight the exceptional partnership between the local authority and community housing organisation.

Wellsted Street – A showcase of multi-faceted empty homes partnership work

The two properties in Wellsted Street which show case this innovative and wide ranging partnership approach had been empty since 29th September 2006 and 1st August 2006 respectively. The two are adjacent properties located in a prominent position on the street front and inhibited the regeneration of the whole street.

Property 1
This property is owned by an absent landlord who lives in Australia and is in negative equity. She had tried to renovate the property on three occasions but each time it was abandoned and vandalised. The final time it was abandoned the property was stripped of everything. The surveyor’s report on the property set out:

“During my inspection I noted that as a result of break-ins and vandalism, XX Wellsted Street has been left in very poor order – with debris strewn throughout, roof tiles missing, damaged and missing doors and windows; there is no kitchen and no bathroom, the central heating system and hot and cold water pipes have been stripped out, there are floorboards missing.”

From 2012 the Council attempted to engage with the owner and offered different options under the programme including leasing, purchasing (through Giroscope) and an interest free loan. The owner declined all offers and then ceased to engage. The Council then commenced enforcement action and secured an EDMO (Empty Dwelling Management Order) to bring the property into use (this was the fifth EDMO secured on the street). This came into force in February 2017. Due to the difficulties with managing properties in Wellsted Street, and recognising Giroscope’s skill for successfully sustaining tenancies in the area, HCC entered a services contract with Giroscope to manage all of its EDMOs there. This property was therefore renovated by HCC and then passed to Giroscope for letting and ongoing management. The property has been let to a family who has settled in well.

Property 2
Property 2 belonged to an absent landlord who lived on the South Coast of England.

The property is large with a double front and previously had an archway to the rear garden and a loft conversion. It had been used as a cannabis factory and subject to numerous Police raids. Like the previous property it had been completely stripped of all contents. From 2012 the Council and Giroscope continually engaged with the owner with offers of leasing, purchasing and interest free loans to no avail. HCC commenced enforcement action and the owner advertised the property for sale but would not accept an offer at market value. In 2015 a squatter had started living in the property and there was a serious fire in the loft space. HCC worked with the owner to claim on his insurance to get remedial works done to stop the property being a hazard.

After significant negotiation Giroscope then purchased the property and applied to HCC for Right to Buy (RTB) receipts funding to subsidise the purchase and refurbishment. HCC is one of a very small number of Council’s to use its surplus RTB receipts to fund empty homes acquisition and refurbishment by partner organisations. To date Giroscope has successfully bid to HCC for almost £300k to deliver 14 empty homes refurbishments including this property on Wellsted Street.

Giroscope has completely transformed this property, refurbishing and furnishing it to an exceptionally high standard, filling in the arch to create a large kitchen. HCC’s Early Help team in children’s services has worked closely with Giroscope to set the property up as a shared house for young pregnant women as an alternative to hostel accommodation. The house will be used as temporary accommodation during pregnancy until permanent settled accommodation can be secured. The young women will be able to share their pregnancy experience and will receive support from HCC and Giroscope to gain independent living and parenting skills. The first young women are due to move in over the next few weeks.

Wider Area – Next steps

The physical works to improve Wellsted Street are almost complete, with less than a handful of properties empty, one of which (the most derelict property on one of the court terraces) is currently being refurbished by Giroscope. Yet the neighbourhood remains a priority for the Police, HCC’s anti-social behaviour team and environmental crime. This is another key facet of the partnership – Giroscope is a key member of the multi-agency group with HCC to ensure the non-physical elements of regeneration are achieved. Significant improvements have been seen and will continue due to actions being undertaken by all agencies. The final properties remain a priority for both organisations and will continue to be targeted until they are in use.

Outside of the Wellsted Street area, Giroscope and HCC continue to tackle empty homes in the wider area. Giroscope is also a key partner in the Council’s flagship shared tenancies project funded by Crisis. The two organisations also work together to share good practice of the partnership and have delivered joint presentations at conferences.

Conclusion

After six years of dedication, persistence and hard work the area of Wellsted Street is much improved and specifically the two properties which were barriers to achieving regeneration have been brought into use. The means by which this has happened is through the strong and instrumental partnership between Giroscope and HCC. Without the two organisations working in the way they have this could not have been achieved. Key to the partnership’s success is continuous open dialogue and recognising the strengths of each other and what each can deliver.

Innovation is also at its heart including the use of EDMOs and external management scheme, the use of surplus RTB receipts and looking for innovative uses for large properties which fulfil the wider objectives of the city.

Thanks to Cromwood Social for supporting the Award

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