Ideas for change: Community-led self-help housing

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Canopy in Leeds provides a self-help housing option for homeless people

A new era of housing organisations is coming up from the streets, taking over empty properties and helping re-build communities, as Jon Fitzmaurice explains.

Many people have now forgotten that quite a few of today’s largest housing associations had very modest beginnings and were often the creation of local activists. For instance, huge organisations like Paragon, Midland Heart, Genesis, Notting Hill and Hyde all started off as very small scale initiatives, driven by groups of people simply getting hold of a few empty street properties.

For a long time empty street property provided a relatively quick route into housing for local self-help organisations that wanted to house their members or were working with marginalised people in need of affordable housing. However, in recent years it tailed off, as eligibility to receive government funding became more restrictive and money was increasingly diverted towards large housing providers engaged in new build developments.

Things suddenly changed however in 2012. The government announced £100m funding for an Empty Homes Programme and following some concerted lobbying, £30m was ring-fenced for an Empty Homes Community Grants Programme, through which over 100 community-led organisations have received funding, either to buy or to lease empty properties in need of repair, in which they can house their members or clients. A further £20m became available via a second round of funding in 2013.

Suddenly people and organisations that had been denied a chance to procure housing for themselves found that once again they could. What’s more, organisations were not going to be required to be registered with the Homes and Communities Agency in order to receive funding and the years were rolled back!

Tribal won the contract to run the programme and put in place a straightforward bidding process, matched by uncomplicated administration. Government often talks about the need for ‘proportionate’ procedures and that’s what emerged – something that really helps community-led housing to flourish.

A total of 147 organisations bid for funding and 95 were successful, rising to 110 after round two. Who were they? A mixture of charities, community interest companies, community benefit organisations, co-ops, and community land trust. A very broad church, united by the prospect of getting hold of housing, quickly and relatively simply. Between them, bringing back into use a wide variety of buildings, tackling a range of different problems and they’ve been housing a wide variety of people.

On the next pages are some examples of what’s been going on:

Jon Fitzmaurice

Jon Fitzmaurice OBE has worked in housing for over 30 years. His first taste of housing was working with young unemployed people on empty properties in Birmingham. Several years ago, he set up Self-Help Housing.Org with funding from the Tudor Trust to promote self-help housing initiatives.

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