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'Homesteading' could tackle England's 700,000 empty homes

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'Homesteading' could tackle England's 700,000 empty homes

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Development

Shelter issues wake-up call over Scotland's empty homes Shelter issues wake-up call over Scotland's empty homes

The process of 'homesteading' should be brought back to return some of England's 710,000 empty homes back into use, new research has concluded.

Homesteading is a process where vacant properties are sold at a discount to people who renovate them to create their own homes. The concept was popular in the '70s and '80s but has fallen almost entirely out of use over the last 20 years.

The new independent research from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the charity Empty Homes looked at how the number of empty homes in England could be reduced through the scheme.

Due to the shortage of housing stock in the UK, Empty Homes believes it is time for a national homesteading program to be introduced.

In particular, the researchers argue that homesteading could make a real difference in the north where local authorities continue to hold a significant number of empty properties as a result of the housing market renewal programme - a scheme that aimed at tackling low demand housing through acquisition and demolition in 11 northern areas.

These houses would have been demolished but the demise of the programme meant that they were spared as councils no longer had the funds to demolish them.

With little public money available to bring them back into use, homesteading could offer local authorities a positive and sensible way forward in dealing with these empty properties.

In 2012, Empty Homes helped Stoke City Council develop a homesteading programme for two areas of the city where houses had previously been acquired for clearance. The ‘Houses for £1’ programme was launched in early 2013, allowing people to buy houses for £1 on condition they renovated them and lived in them as their sole home.

The programme made 35 houses available for sale, and proved popular with several thousand applications being received from prospective purchasers.

Similar schemes have subsequently been launched in both Liverpool and Oldham.

The research found that homesteading:

• Was simple to understand for council officials, the media and the wider public.
• Was being undertaken by a small but growing number of enthusiastic local authorities, social landlords and practitioners.
• Was the subject of massive local demand.
• Provided social landlords with an affordable and high-profile means of bringing empty properties back into use to meet local housing needs.
• Provided opportunities for relatively low-income households to become homeowners.

David Ireland, Empty Homes chief executive, said: “We know that Homesteading works. There is a clear demand from prospective homeowners for empty homes and this research shows that there are many things which policy makers can take on board which will enable a major expansion in the scale of homesteading in the UK.

“We hope that this research will provide the spring-board to enable thousands of empty properties to be brought back into affordable use. We will continue to push for a national homesteading programme to be introduced.”

The research recommends that policy-makers should consider:

• Further encouragement of homesteading via the government’s empty homes funding with explicit targets for homesteading in each local authority area.
• Publication of national guidance on homesteading for elected members, local authority officers, mortgage-lenders and prospective homesteaders, incorporating case studies and best practice advice.
• The completion of further research to better understand the profiles and motivations of actual and potential homesteaders.

Lee Crookes and Win Greenhalgh, authors of the report, said: “There are over 710,000 empty properties in England alone and with over 1.2 million people on housing waiting lists throughout England, it makes total economic and social sense to introduce a scheme such as homesteading into the ‘housing toolbox’ of local authorities. All the research shows that homesteading works – it is now down to policy makers and politicians to support and extend the use of homesteading as part of their broader efforts to tackle the problem of empty homes.”

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