New EHA report highlights community-based approaches

Empty Homes, the national campaigning charity, has a project to spread community-based regeneration in areas with high levels of empty homes. We are following demonstration projects where community-based organisations are bringing empty homes into use in areas with high levels of empty homes. We want to share their experiences and encourage other organisations to look at how community-based regeneration could work in such neighbourhoods to tackle the underlying causes of empty homes.

Our report, Community-based approaches in areas with high-levels of empty homes,  aims to share the learning from the demonstration projects over the past year. It also makes recommendations about how best to support community-based empty homes work. The report is accessible via the EHN Information Library here.

We hope the report will be of interest. Please share it with colleagues and partners who may find it useful. If you would like to explore or discuss community -based approaches to bringing empty homes into use in your area, please feel free to contact Brighid Carey, project manager:

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It's a great report. The case studies are really valuable and a testament to the different organisations involved.

I hope the recommendations will be taken seriously by all concerned. I just thought I would reproduce them here to really drive home the messages:

Local authorities with neighbourhoods with high levels of empty homes should:

  1. Support  community-based neighbourhood  regeneration approaches. This should include working with communities to develop neighbourhood improvement plans to tackle empty homes and the wider linked issues that they face. In doing so adopt an `invest to save' approach recognising how supporting local schemes and services can bring wider benefits to local people, such as jobs, reduced crime, improved health and well-being.
  2. Ensure their approach in neighbourhoods with high levels of empty homes fits within a local authority-wide empty homes strategy for their area.
  3. Seek funding and allocate resources to buy and refurbish empty properties for people in housing need. As part of this, they should make funding available to community-based organisations wishing to buy and refurbish empty homes. They should also support community-based providers and housing associations seeking funding to bring empty homes back into use.
  4. Help community-based organisations wishing to build their know-how and skills to bring empty homes back into use by providing capacity building support.

Funding partners should:

  1. Recognise the individuality of community-based initiatives and ensure there is sufficient flexibility in funding criteria to maximise inclusion of community-based projects.
  2. Review funding application processes to ensure they minimise the burden on community-based organisations when applying for funding. Review decision-making timetables to minimise delays. Ensure bidding requirements are proportionate to the sums involved.
  3. Ensure performance reporting is targeted and consider consistency with other project funding partners to optimise reporting by community-based projects.

Housing associations should:

  1. Seek funding and allocate resources to buy and refurbish empty properties for people in housing need.
  2. Take into account what is best for local communities when developing any property disposal strategies. This should include liaising with the local authorities before making disposals to help ensure that they do not contribute to neighbourhood decline and undermine strategies to tackle empty homes in the area. If seeking to exit from a neighbourhood, they should look to dispose of properties to community-based organisations who are committed to the neighbourhood for the long-term and will manage them well.

Central Government should:

  1. Adopt an investment programme targeted at areas with high levels of long-term empty homes. This programme should enable local authorities, social landlords and community-based organisations to buy/lease empty properties to refurbish them. It should also support wider community-based regeneration approaches that tackle the underlying causes of empty homes in these areas.
  2. Ensure that funding programmes to tackle empty homes are also open to community-led organisations who are not registered providers, and invest in capacity building in this sector.
  3. Re-establish dedicated funding programmes to support local authorities and housing providers to create affordable housing from long-term empty homes in all parts of England.
  4. Conduct a review of how the legal powers available to local authorities to tackle empty homes and poor standards of management in the private rented sector could be improved.


Now a few random thoughts about taking the recommendations forwards: 

  • As regards housing association disposals, I think beyond a certain level of deprivation or concentration of empties, housing associations should be required to build area regeneration into their disposal programmes, which could in turn be expected mean disposal to community-based initiatives. Currently, the control exercised by Homes England seem quite insufficient and appears to have led to mass disposals where the potential local impacts - positive or negative - have not been taken into account.
  • I think it would be desirable to make it clear that central government funding should not only recognise the additionality offered by community-based approaches - for example as regards jobs, training and resettlement - but should itself include within the funding stream an additional element to support those aspects. Otherwise the true cost-benefit position may be overlooked if bidding is against capital funding that is exclusively for affordable housing or physical regeneration.
  • It's a bit down to interpretation but I think that in seeking funding programmes that are 'open to community-led organisations' we would be advised to lobby for a dedicated programme for such providers, as we had previously in the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme 2012-15 (see previous point).

Great schemes, and much food for thought..

David Gibbens
EHN Policy Lead