The £1 houses project was an innovative and holistic solution to the problems caused by clusters of empty homes.
- Project: £1 houses
- Objectives: To bring a cluster of empty homes back into productive use
- Timescale: 2012 to present
- Cost to authority: £1.5m
- Number of staff working on project: Three
- Outcomes: 33 empty homes back in use; 33 low-income working households helped on to the property ladder; environmental improvements; reduction in reported crime; improved engagement with landlords
- Officer contact details: Iain Robinson
Thirty-three derelict properties in the Cobridge area of Stoke-on-Trent were extensively renovated and sold to carefully selected buyers for the nominal sum of £1, plus the £30,000 cost of renovation, which is repaid through a 10-year, low-interest loan.
By bringing a cluster of properties back into use simultaneously, the £1 houses project aimed to provide sufficient critical mass to create genuine social uplift in the area, in addition to the aesthetic environmental benefits of unsightly derelict houses being brought back up to decent standards.
From the outset, we knew that having a sustainable funding model for the project would be critical to achieving long-term success and demonstrating value for money. We also realised from an early point in the process that the attitude of potential buyers, and their willingness to engage with and support our social regeneration objectives, would be crucial.
We therefore set out to devise a selection process that prioritised applicants with strong local connections to the area, who were earning modest salaries that would ordinarily put home ownership beyond their reach, and who were willing to take an active role in shaping the legacy of the £1 houses scheme.
Essentially we were faced with four options: do nothing; sell the properties at auction, potentially to the private rented sector whose historic underinvestment had fuelled many of the area’s problems; intervene and sell the empty homes to buyers for £1; or intervene and do the renovation work ourselves prior to sale and recover the cost later.
We felt that leaving buyers to do the renovation work was not only asking a lot of them, but also risked disjointed, piecemeal delivery of a project whose
success would rest on creating the impact needed to drive continuing improvement and social uplift.
Shouldering the up-front financial risk ourselves was a unique approach at the time, but one that guaranteed maximum impact through the simultaneous delivery of 33 new homes in a concentrated area. It also gave us a mechanism to make the entire project financially sustainable.
Repayments on the 33 loan agreements represent a recyclable fund that can be used to help us address other problem empty homes around the city, thereby extending and reinforcing the positive legacy created by the £1 houses programme.
Renovation work on the houses was completed last summer, with all of the buyers taking ownership by the end of the year. The buyers quickly formed links with the existing residents and have established a community group to help shape future improvement work in the area, including plans for a new community green space.
It is early days yet as this is a 10-year vision of holistic transformation, but we are already seeing declining crime and antisocial behaviour, while our complementary work with private landlords is resulting in more effective engagement around housing standards and investment. This work will improve public health outcomes for all residents and reduce inequality.
In addition, the successful delivery of our project has generated significant media coverage and stimulated debate about how councils can address the serious housing issues facing their communities. Building on these positive outcomes, we are now looking at ways to develop a second phase to the £1 houses scheme.
Carl Brazier, director of housing, Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Project: £1 houses
Objective: To bring a cluster of empty homes back into productive use
Timescale: 2012 to present
Cost to authority: £1.5m
Number of employees working on project: Three
Outcomes: 33 empty homes back in use; 33 low-income working households helped on to the property ladder; environmental improvements; reduction in reported crime; improved engagement with landlords
Officer contact: Iain.email@example.com