Habitat for Humanity GB believe that having a safe place to call home is not just a basic human right but also the catalyst to take families out of poverty.
Over the past 18 months, the importance of this has been highlighted in the biggest of ways – how can you follow government guidance to stay at home if you don’t have a home to stay in?
With house prices reaching the equivalent of almost 8 times a person’s annual income, it is predicted that hundreds of thousands of new houses are needed each year to combat levels of homelessness, overcrowding and unaffordability. The closure or restrictions on businesses during the pandemic also impacted employability for many industries, making it difficult for those affected to pay rent and bills, let alone to save. For many, the situation meant needing to find new employment, which was a challenge for anyone but even more so for those entering the workforce with little or no experience or the vulnerable who were facing the battle of trying to stay safe whilst earning a living.
Meanwhile, as the homeless battle the elements on the streets struggling to find cover and families and young people fight for space in overcrowded flats or houses, thousands of privately-owned and council owned commercial properties in Great Britain sit empty.
Habitat for Humanity GB’s Empty Housing Model works with local communities to try to utilise these opportunities and bridge the gap between excess demand for homes and out of use buildings. Their teams work closely with community-minded organisations and local authorities to renovate and upgrade buildings that would otherwise be left untouched, transforming empty spaces into homes. Their lease and repair scheme enables them to refurbish empty properties with the affordable rent being used to payback any costs of repairs and maintain the property over the time it’s being rented out. This injection of funds not only benefits recipients of the homes but also the local community and follows the sustainable strategy of up-cycling, improving these properties that may otherwise be left untouched.
Earlier this year, the Empty Homes Network conducted research to explore and understanding the current opportunities available to reutilise vacant buildings and spaces. Bringing some staggering statistics to the surface, it highlighted a real need to adopt this concept of re-evaluating these vacant properties and spaces and whether they could be utilised more effectively.
“Every family needs a home, but not every business needs a building.”
It is estimated that these spaces have the potential to create over 19,500 residential units through the conversion of vacant office and retail space.
On average, each Council owns 18 commercial or business properties that have remained vacant for over 12 months.
When combined, retail and office space accounts for over 55% of all vacant buildings owned by local authorities in England and Wales, over 38% in Scotland
An estimated 165,000 privately-owned commercial and business premises remain empty across Great Britain, potentially providing a partial solution to the current housing and homelessness crisis.
Undoubtedly the Covid pandemic has contributed to some of these high statistics, encouraging remote working, closed shops and restaurants and other non-essential businesses, but has this shift in our behaviours become a more long-term changed behaviour? The pandemic initiated the remote working lifestyle and a change in habits but now that businesses and individuals have put these resources in place, this flexible lifestyle may be here to stay, leaving buildings closed, empty and underused.
The hope is that this research not only helps to raise awareness of the situation, but it also encourages action to be taken. The goal is for more authorities, charities, communities and civil society organisations to adopt Habitat for Humanity GB’s Empty Housing Model so that potential opportunities can be investigated and utilised. Habitat for Humanity GB’s pilot programme in East London has demonstrated how the model operates in a real life with the aim being to roll the programme out throughout the UK. COINS Foundation are proud to continue our partnership with Habitat for Humanity GB and have committed £50,000 towards supporting their wider work in the UK.