The third award featured in our series about the Empty Homes Awards 2014 presented at our Conference in Birmingham in May is that for Best Local Authority / Housing Association Partnership.
This award was newly introduced in 2014 by sponsor London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, who were keen to publicise the merits of close working between Private Registered Providers (the latest official name for housing associations) and councils. The award was presented by Neil Pearce, Housing Strategy, Affordable Homes & Partnerships Officer for Barking and Dagenham.
The winning entry came from Amber Valley Borough Council and Futures Homescape Ltd. and the award was received by Sue Li, Empty Homes Officer, on behalf of Amber Valley and Paul Whittingham,Head of Housing Services and Sara Mackie, Housing Advice Manager on behalf of Futures Homescape Ltd.
(From left to right: Paul Whittingham, Sara Mackie, Sue Li, Neil Pearce.
Why they won
Whilst others have struggled with the Homes and Communities Empty Homes Programme the two organisations involved here not only met their delivery targets but exceeded them thanks to a strong partnership as described in their award submission below.
Amber Valley BC and Futures Homescape have a history of working together to return empty homes to use since the council first appointed an Empty Property Officer in 2005. Futures Homescape was formed from the stock transfer process and close connections to the local authority have been retained. When many other providers were solely interested in new build, Futures Homescape committed to tackling empty properties with the authority.
Since 2007 the partnership has returned 36 properties to use through the tenant finder service, requiring no resources other than staff time. Since this time also, the partnership has delivered 16 homes through purchase and repair/renovation; funded by s106 contributions, HCA grant and New Homes Bonus.
Naturally, when the HCA announced specific funding to tackle empty properties the partnership immediately considered how this could be achieved in Amber Valley.
In Round 1 Futures Homescape was awarded £210,000 to bring 30 properties back into use and in Round 2 £300,000 to bring 15 properties into use by 2015. In Autumn 2013, on the strength of previous performance, the partnership was invited to apply for £100,000 to tackle 5 more homes. So far, 23 have been completed, 11 will be ready for occupation imminently and a total of 63 are due for completion by the end of the programme – 13 more than originally anticipated.
This partnership has been particularly strong in delivering a scheme which has reportedly been fraught with difficulties in other areas. The model has found a niche market of converting vacant, mainly derelict commercial space, into flats. These properties have provided much needed affordable 1 and 2 bedroom accommodation, which is in high demand due to welfare reforms. Public and private sector stock across Amber Valley was initially unable to meet these demands.
This does not mean that ‘traditional’ empty homes have been ignored. On the contrary, the PSL scheme has enabled the local authority to refer owners of empty homes to the scheme. It has been of particular benefit to owners who; 1) did not appreciate the cost associated with fully renovating a home and have run out of funds; 2) owners who want no management responsibilities but want a guaranteed income; 3) owners who are interested in the long-term investment potential of a property but have no interest in renovation or management; 4) owners that live some distance from Amber Valley.
The council has also referred properties on a strategic basis, such as those being considered for an Empty Dwelling Management Order and other forms of enforcement action or where there is another strategic priority to tackle a particular individual empty home. Through joined-up negotiation and carrot and stick approach the partnership is working on strategically important and difficult empty homes.
Added Value and Opportunities
The partnership has resulted in some unexpected but welcome opportunities:
- Word of mouth interested generated amongst some local commercial property owners to convert vacant space above high street shops
- Additional town centre out-buildings being converted and leased to create affordable accessible bungalows for residents with mobility problems
- Empty homes with unwanted large gardens being purchased and delivering additional new-build affordable dwellings
- Environmental improvements to local amenities
- Providing affordable homes in localities with little supply
- Poor private sector landlords handing over management to a professional organisation
- The partnership’s model being rolled out to other areas
Mechanisms for Delivery
Since transfer the two organisations have retained close ties at all levels, including Member involvement, senior management engagement, strategic consultation and delivery on the ground.
Futures Homescape are consulted in the formulation of the Council’s housing and corporate priorities and are one of the preferred partners for all forms of affordable housing delivery.
The housing strategic priorities, of which tackling empty homes is one, are developed, monitored and reassessed through the local housing authority’s Housing Implementation Group; with Futures Homescape, the Council’s Housing Strategy Officer and the Empty Property Officer being regular contributors. From this, empty property work is taken forward with regular dialogue between the Empty Property Officer and Futures Homescape’s Private Sector Housing Team.
To ensure swift delivery of empty property conversion and renovation Futures Homescape has procured preferred contractors and has an internal team of housing maintenance officers and surveyors.
Strategic, constructive dialogue, both top-down and bottom-up, with a shared vision of housing provision and adequate personnel resources provides the cornerstone for this partnership’s successful empty homes delivery.
We are grateful to Grafton UK Ltd for sponsoring The Empty Homes Awards Ceremony 2014.