Community-Led Approaches to Empty Homes in Wales

Row of empty terraces – image from wikipedia commons

On behalf of Tyfu Tai Cymru, Amy McMurray, Anthony Morgans, and Emma Parcell, who are final-year BSc Housing Students at Cardiff Metropolitan University (supervised and supported by housing studies lecturer Marc Fury), researched the role of community-led solutions in addressing empty homes.

Tyfu Tai Cymru (TTC) is a five-year housing policy project that aims to provide insightful analysis and fill evidence gaps to support policy progression. The TTC project is managed by the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru and Funded by the Oak Foundation.

The research took place during the summer of 2020 and reflects the concept that decent housing is the foundation for a society where all people can live in a home that works for them whilst supporting their contribution towards Wales’ future. The report offers an understanding of community-led solutions and discusses if this approach, in particular, could play a part in overcoming some of the barriers in returning empty homes to use.

Tackling Empty Homes in Practice

The research team interviewed housing associations and local authorities across Wales, who are working to tackle the blight of empty homes. They were very keen that their research focused on what could be learned and shared with others as good practice examples from housing professionals that have adopted community-led housing solutions.

It shows that despite a range of good practices emerging, the tools currently at the disposal of local authorities have had little success in reducing the overall number of empty homes in Wales. The report outlines that housing professionals are very interested in adopting and developing skills on community-led approaches, but many barriers including workload pressures, staff time, lack of funding options, and expertise as well as the further barrier of Covid-19 prevent this in practice. Covid-19 has meant that many plans concerning empty properties have stalled as work is currently being triaged.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the Welsh Government commissioned training for all Welsh local authorities with Andrew Lavender who is considered an expert in the field of empty homes, however, the majority of these have had to be postponed. The pandemic is also said to be preventing planned community engagement and decisions on grant funding applications. Despite these challenges, there is recognition of Covid-19 creating opportunities for housing associations and local authorities to reflect and consider their current approaches to tackling empty homes.

Findings

There were inconsistencies found with how local authorities prioritise empty homes regarding the use of enforcement, however, many shared the view that there was a need for more funding for dedicated human resources. The report indicates the way forward to tackling empty homes is by forming stronger partnerships.

The research team found that partnership working enabled one housing association respondent to adopt a very effective community-led solution and was key to the accessibility of low- cost, long-term loan funding. Close partnership working is reported to minimise risk while enhancing the effectiveness of adopting this approach by joining up with skills and expertise.

The most effective aspects of community-led housing solutions highlighted in the findings are the creation of close-knit communities, enabling people with support needs to become more independent, empowering tenants to take a leading role, encouraging tenants to take pride in their properties, reduced repair/void costs, and increased tenancy sustainability.

Understanding the priorities of local communities is highlighted as crucial to the success of tackling empty homes based on the links with community regeneration. A key finding, at the heart of the report, is the value of empty homes and how maximising them could help provide much-needed permanent accommodation during the pandemic. Returning empty homes with attention to community-led approaches could help rebuild communities, provide employment opportunities, enhance skills, and ensure better energy efficiency to help reach decarbonisation goals.

Recommendations

A series of recommendations have been produced to enable local authorities to adopt community-led approaches as a regular part of their action on empty homes;

  • Welsh Government should emphasise community-led approaches as a strand within its forthcoming National Empty Homes Action Plan, detailing the resources available to help grow the approach
  • Local Authorities should publish their empty homes strategy detailing activities aimed at increasing the use of community-led approaches
  • Welsh Government should commission and roll out training available to all staff focusing on bringing empty homes back to use
  • Welsh Government should host a seminar each year focusing on sharing the learning from projects that have used community-led approaches to bring empty homes back into use
  • Local authorities should develop a common framework for reviewing and improving how opportunities for communities to take action in partnership to address empty homes are communicated locally.

These support earlier recommendations made by the Senedd’s Equality Local Government and Communities Committee report on ‘Empty Properties’. They also offer opportunities for Registered Social Landlords to develop skills in community-led housing and to implement these as a key feature of their work.

Find out more

The shortened summary report can be accessed here https://www.cih.org/publications/community-led-approaches-to-empty-homes-summary-report

The full length report can be accessed here https://www.cih.org/publications/community-led-approaches-to-empty-homes

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