Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Firstly last month in the Comprehensive spending review the government made £100 million available to bring empty homes into use. It will be part of the HCA’s affordability program. So it’s largely capital for renovating and bringing empty homes into affordable housing. Yes, we won’t actually see it until 2012, and yes I know it’s considerably less than the £2.5billion proposed by the Liberal Democrats in their election manifesto. But it’s a great deal more than the £3mllion spent nationally last year on empty homes. From schools to aircraft carriers I can see no other area of public spending which has received such an increase.
Secondly this week the government has proposed rewards (through the New Homes Bonus scheme) for local authorities to get empty homes into use. The mechanisms are still being worked out, and indeed this week’s announcement is a consultation paper. But take note; that the empty homes element is specifically referred to in the ministerial foreword. It even says that this could provide a way to fund the vital work councils do to get empty property into use. But the true significance comes when you see the third proposal.
The government proposed this week that empty homes returned to use should count towards housing supply targets (or aspirations as we should now call them!) in the same way as new homes. The notion might seem blindingly obvious, but previous governments have resisted it. The effect has been that work to bring homes into use has been regarded as of secondary importance to building new homes by many councils.
These proposals would mean that councils would have to consider empty homes and getting new homes built together. A good idea in itself; what’s the point of building new homes if there are already homes lying empty? You might ask. Certainly we’ve been asking that question for years. Now we have an answer. Not everybody will like this, but if councils get this wrong it will hit them in the wallet. For example under this proposal a council that gets a hundred new homes built, but also sees a hundred homes becoming empty will get no New Homes Bonus reward. A council that gets a hundred empty homes into use will earn lots of New Homes Bonus even if no new homes are built. This is a clever idea, it will mean councils will have to look at their existing housing stock instead of just trying to get more homes built. And when they need work out to get more homes they will find that housing associations are funded not just to build new homes, but they have £100million fund to apply to get empty homes into use too.
So this isn't really three seprate announcements, it adds up to something much more a real policy. Now they really don't come around very often.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The implication to the CIH’s model is that private landlords will turf out tenants on HB rather than drop the rent to a level that they can afford. It also assumes that rents will rise at a uniform 5% a year. The old adage is that all projections are wrong, and I’m quite sure this one will be. My first thought is that the private rental market is just that, a market. Rents are set by what people will pay, sop it’s never going to price itself out of business. In some areas, central London for example, I have little doubt that landlords will be able to find tenants not receiving HB who will pay the same rent. So few will see the need to drop their rents. In other areas landlords will have little choice. I spoke to one landlords from rural Durham recently who told me he could let houses to people on HB at double the rate he could let them on the open market. In neither case do I see much chance of vacancy increasing. In central London tenants will only be forced out if the landlord thinks he can let it somebody for higher rent; so no vacancy. In Durham the landlord is potentially faced with less rent or no rent. Most I would guess would opt for less. So no new vacancy.
However, I did say there might be a bit of extra vacancy. Here’s why: with lots of landlords forced to make decisions and lots of people having to move, there will be plenty of opportunity for cock-ups. Landlords are just people and on the whole people who have lots going on in their lives other than letting houses. An uncomfortable truth about much of the private rented housing let to people on HB is it’s rubbish. HB doesn’t take account of property condition, and so the incentive for a landlord to maintain it is less than if the tenant isn’t on HB. A landlord who moves out HB tenants to let on the open market may find that they are faced with a big refurbishment bill to get it up to scratch. The property is then empty and if the landlord can’t get it sorted out, it stays empty. In an ideal world a landlord foreseeing this problem may drop the rent and keep the HB tenant. But the world of cock-ups doesn’t include many landlords with foresight. In Durham a more serious problem may emerge. If HB is so much higher the market it suggests there isn’t much market. When this happens it isn’t impossible for landlords just to give up. It hasn’t happened for years. Perhaps because HB has artificially propped the market up, but there’s no reason why it could happen again in some areas.
Of course all of this avoids the really big problem here. HB changes will inevitably cause people on low incomes to move because they can no longer afford to pay their rent. The market will adjust to this, there won’t be swaths of vacant properties, but for some people here will be personal tragedies and hardship. Is this a price worth paying? Now there's a real question.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
These are the last days of the Welsh Streets in Liverpool. The area was built in the 1880s by and for Welsh construction workers, with streets named after towns and villages in Wales they came from. Wynnstay, Voelas, Rhiwlas, Powis, Madryn, and Kinmel. In 2005 a decision was made by the council to demolish an area of 300 houses encompassing most of the Welsh Streets. In the last five years the houses have been systematically emptied out and acquired by Liverpool City Council; leaving what must be the largest area of empty houses in the country. Baring a last minute reprieve, the bulldozers are set to roll on October 14th. Yesterday, a warm late summers day I took what might be a last look.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
I'm posting this message on behalf of the Welsh Streets Home Group. They are challenging the imminent demolition of the the area of Victorian terraces, the former home of Ringo Star, known as theWelsh Streets in Liverpool. If you want to see these houses saved, this may be your last chance please write to the council by Wednesday. See instructions below:
You may be aware that Liverpool City Council have issued Liverpool residents Prior Notice that they plan to demolish 400 houses in the Welsh Streets. It featured in the media last week as Ringo Stars birthplace is involved. We want to let you know that the Council have invited responses to the Prior Notice of Demolition . If the council receive enough responses the proposal will be referred to a full planning committee and not decided by an individual officer. Your efforts could make a difference - for residents in Kelvin Grove who are not yet being bulldozed and to others living next to the demolition of a huge site.
Bulldozing is due to start on 13th September in three weeks time. Currently, the council proposal for how the houses will be demolished is vague. It could damage the health and security of residents surrounding the area. Responses to the Councils Proposal have to be received by the Council by 5 pm on Wednesday 25th August. Next week.
Planning law states that where a Prior Notice has been issued for consultation, only two issues will be considered. These are:
1) the proposed method of demolition and
2)details of the proposed restoration of the site.
You can read it yourself at Millennium House or look at the Planning on the council web-site and put ref. number 10pm/1551 into the navigator. We have a copy you can see at no.30 Kelvin Grove where there will be an open letter writing session this Sunday evening at 6pm. Letters will also be written between 3 and 5 at the Nerve Show in old Rapid Paint shop on Leece St if you want to come along and do a letter or help others do one.
Having looked at the proposal at the Planning Office and with a volunteer from Planning Aid, some serious problems have been noticed. These are:
The proposed method of demolition is given as hand/machine. This lacks the detail normally expected, which would state which machines would be used for which tasks, e.g. ball and chain, or a more careful and considered approach.
A method statement covering the health and safety of the workers and the public would also be included in the application and currently there is none.
It is stated that rubble will be dumped on a licensed tip when the authorities said previously it would be recycled for road-building.
There is no information about how gable ends of two blocks of houses left standing will be finished to keep them safe for occupants and the public and attractive for the community.
Demolition would leave a large empty patch of land ( from Kinmel Street to Kelvin Grove) to be covered with soil, fertiliser and grass-seed. No information is given in the proposal regarding the capping of sewers to reduce problems with rats, or other pests.
It appears from details given in the drawings that low metal hoop barriers will enclose each block of ex-houses. These barriers lack the strength to withstand being pushed over by vehicles so fly-tipping in these areas may be a risk.
The application shows palisade fencing will surround the site but no drawings of the fencing are supplied.
Despite the palisade fencing back gardens, sewers and drains of Kelvin Grove will be inadequately protected, creating a public health hazard & security issues for residents remaining in the even numbered side of the street.
Practicalities of living in or near a demolition zone such as dust suppression measures, working hours of heavy machines and noise pollution are not addressed.
We have also been advised that objections to this proposal would influence decisions regarding the future of Kelvin Grove which remains under threat of CPO and demolition.
If you want to help, please put your own version of these comments into a letter.
YOU MUST PLEASE Quote the Planning Application Reference 10PM/1551
Include a request to have the matter decided by full planning committee.
Ask for a receipt or acknowledgement of your letter.
ALL LETTERS SHOULD ARRIVE BY 5PM ON WEDNESDAY 25TH AUGUST
It does not have to be a long letter or include all of these points .
You do not have to live in the area to be concerned about it.
If you miss the deadline send a letter anyway it all adds up.
PLEASE SEND A COPY of YOUR LETTER TO : Nina Jones, Chair Welsh Streets Home Group, 39 Kelvin Grove, L8
or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that duplicate letters, letters with multiple signatures or petitions will be ignored by the Council. If you just copy and paste things you have read here, the letter wont count. Try to find a way of writing your letter that makes it different.
if its too late to post deliver by hand to Sherridan Scott, Development Control Division, Millennium House, 60 Victoria Street, Liverpool,L1 6JF.
ask for a dated receipt when you hand it in
by post to Liverpool City Council, Regeneration, Planning Department, Municipal Buildings, Dale Street, Liverpool, L2 2DH, to Liverpool City Councils planning department.
via email to email@example.com or Sheridan.Scott@liverpool.gov.uk
please include your postal address on an e-mail letter.
Thank Your for you support now and in the past. We are deeply disappointed Liverpool City Council have failed to consider alternatives to demolition. They seem to be rushing into an irreversible action which pre-empts CPO and redevelopment decisions in a wider area. It is further seen as premature in advance of any redevelopment proposals being brought forward.
P.S. There are currently 13,500 tined up houses in the city all emptied at public expense. Meanwhile 23k people are awaiting homes. If you feel the cheapest, fastest and most eco friendly way of alleviating the housing crisis is to renovate not demolish you might like to add a note to this effect in your letter.
Writing a letter could have a material benefit for streets like Kelvin Grove which remains under threat but are not involved in next months bulldozing because the residents have refused to leave . The Welsh Streets Home Group will continue to campaign for Kelvin Grove and hope for your ongoing support. Sorry for the tight timescale we were on holiday when the council sent their Prior Notice out.
For help writing your letter , to volunteer or donate to the campaign please e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org
The Welsh Streets Home Group Committee and Supporters
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Could you tell me how the HCA are working to maximise the use of empty homes?
The first thing to say is that the empty homes scheme is a crucial part of our housing and regeneration strategy. The HCA have put a significant amount of funding into empty homes, in the region of 19 million pounds to refurbish over 550 empty homes.
We have also funded major estate transformations which allows us to tackle empty council houses on a much bigger scale.
Other examples of where our investment is used proactively in dealing with empty homes can be found in our investment provided for HMR Pathfinders that focuses on dealing with low demand and abandoned stock while Decent Homes funding helps to keep local authority stock well maintained and combats the stock becoming difficult to let.
Alongside the funding we give a lot of support to local authorities to become effective in tackling the issue of empty homes.
We are, through our skills and knowledge team, supporting programmes that share expertise with local authorities across the country.
In summary, tackling the problem of empty homes can be achieved by a combination of investment through our big programmes and sharing best practice and knowledge from local authorities who have managed to tackle the problem head on with success.
Do you believe there is a private/public partnership model which could be used to reinvigorate the market for empty homes?
I think there is potential to work with the private sector, but when you look at the problem with empty homes there are two key areas, one being the local authority side, which I must say has brought down the number of empty homes in recent years and the private rented sector.
The major problem here seems to be the owners who currently may own a small number of properties. The task is how you can work with the private owners more efficiently; this may mean selling of the houses to local authorities.
What challenges are Local Authorities facing when trying to tackle issues on empty homes?
Local Authorities are facing some tough challenges when it comes to dealing with empty homes. What you tend to find is that once the houses become empty they stay empty for some time, the challenge Authorities have is dealing with landlords who may not have the skills or financial capability of bringing the houses up to the standard they require.
We’re seeing a high concentration in the North West of empty homes, where supply outweighs demand. It can be labour intensive for authorities to get empty homes back into use, so we tend to target our funding into areas across the UK where we can see best value for investment at a quicker rate of supply.
What role does empty homes play in the HCA’s approach to housing and regeneration?
The role empty homes plays in the Homes and Communities Agency housing and regeneration plans is about supply. It is about making more houses available, though it is also about estate renewal and market renewal whilst tackling low demand or low stock. So we are bringing empty houses into stock, but also regenerating communities by removing abandoned and run down housing.
As part of the local investment planning process, we are working with local authorities and partners to support the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies to maximise the use of empty homes.
What progress is being made on Kickstart and how is the HCA dealing with less funding to support housing, especially affordable housing?
I have to say Kickstart has been positively received; with the first schemes now coming to completion. We have a few remaining schemes left to fund, however the biggest task is to see through the delivery of these schemes, but I am in no doubt Kickstart has stimulated the housing market across the UK.
How do you respond to the recent announcement by the NHF who say that up to 500,000 people will be added to the social housing waiting list if the government go ahead with their 40 per cent cuts into housing?
There is no question about the high level of demand for Housing, especially social housing. The challenge we now face at the HCA following our reduced funding is delivering the maximum amount of housing with a lot less funding. The only way this can be achieved is to find alternative and less costly ways of delivering affordable housing, we need to engage with housing associations, contractors and authorities more to ensure we deliver value for money for both the buyer and the delivery authority.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
"Renovating empty homes is an opportunity for the government to get people of housing waiting lists and into good as new homes.Awarding renovation grants will remove eyesores from the local community and rectify lost incomes for the owner and surrounding landlords. It is a win-win situation for the owner of empty properties and the campaign to recycle existing housing stock."With the upcoming comprehensive spending review we can expect local authority funding to be cut however the need to supply new homes doesn't go away, renovating empty homes is a certain way of providing homes."
I’m really inspired by some of the ideas here Jim Overbury’s Private EDMO idea. Using the process, but not the force of the EDMO legislation to get homes into use with the owner’s agreement. Emma Edghill’s idea about working with the YMCA to find homeless people who can work on renovating vacant properties. Gary Kirk’s ideas around local authorities pooling resources. But there are a lot of requests from local authorities here that could be summarised as “give us more money”. One contributor was even as bold as to say he wanted cash cash cash!
Away form this debate I’ve also been approached by a number of people asking that we lobby the government for more money for local authorities. I will certainly campaign for good ideas to be properly financed but I’m afraid I won’t be lobbying for cash cash cash. Here’s why:
The coalition has made it quite clear that its major priority is deficit reduction. There is going to be less not more money. Arguing for the opposite is pointless.
I have seen many many empty homes innitatives and if there is a relationship between effectiveness and resources it is that those with least money do best. Some of the best-resourced initiatives I have seen have been jaw droppingly wasteful.
The factor that is most commonly associated with success is not resources but resourcefulness. I am thinking of Jenny Wood from Harrogate council going round to young building apprentices and kicking them out of bed in the morning to get them on site renovating empty homes. I am thinking of Liz Daykin in South Derbyshire advertising empty properties on her council website as a free estate agency service to help owners sell properties that estate agents didn’t want.
These actions weren’t dependent on large amounts of money, but they took imitative and an understanding of what the problem was that needed fixing. We need more of that, and where there are ideas and where there is success I will be more than happy to argue for them to be properly funded.
Monday, July 05, 2010
- The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) changes grant rules giving housing associations a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes.
- The government confirms funding, and for the first time in years housing associations en-masse start purchase and repair and rehab schemes creating new affordable homes out of empty property.
- The HCA gives greater flexibility so that homelessness charities and other community groups can refurbish empty homes too. Hundreds of new not-for- profit schemes start
- The Government helps local authorities to act by rewarding them for getting long-term empty homes returned to use. Councils start realising the true value of reusing vacant homes and increase the help they offer to property owners.
- The Government and public sector landlords open up their records on vacant property and agree to transfer their own surplus vacant properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. They give powers to the public to force the sale where the public sector drags its feet.
Friday, July 02, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
All very encouraging. Zac Goldsmith is of course not a member of the government (yet) but this is just the latest in a number of suggestions by people in and around the government that they will introduce measures to deal with empty homes soon. I met Grant Shapps last week and he said nothing to dispel the belief. But what should they do? Here’s what I think
1. Change grant rules to give housing associations a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes, and give greater flexibility so that homelessness charities and other community groups can refurbish empty homes too.
2. Government and public sector landlords should hand over surplus properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. Councils should be encouraged to do the same.
3. Give homeowners incentive to refurbish their own empty homes by reducing VAT rates on refurbishment to 5%. It is particularly important that special provision is made for refurbishment if the overall VAT rate rises.
4. Councils should be encouraged to act by extending the government’s proposed council tax incentive scheme (which rewards councils for getting homes built) to long-term empty homes returned to use.
5. Keep council powers including Empty Dwelling management orders. Without them council’s effectiveness is reduced. We agree that they should be amended but please don’t repeal them.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Now, of course, private landlords operate on a different scale to councils or housing associations. A recent ARLA survey showed the average private landlord owned seven properties. The National Housing Federation’s latest figures show that the average housing association has more than 2,000 properties. But if bringing an empty home into use isn’t too difficult for a landlord who owns a handful of property, there’s no rational reason why it should be too difficult for a landlord who owns thousands. The housing market has changed, and if social housing is going to keep pace it needs to borrow the skills of private landlords. Bringing empty homes really is a good idea, and it’s a highly viable way of creating new housing. It’s only too difficult if you don’t know how to do it.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The Cabinet Minister in charge of local government, communities and housing is Eric Pickles a man who led Bradford Council in the early 1990s and will undoubtedly be an influential member of the government. Tim Williams says that Pickles’ experience is a double-edged sword for a man who will unquestionably wield it to the budget. He knows what he’s doing, but on the other hand may be too familiar with local government, and knows where the bodies are buried. It strikes me that these are both commendations for somebody who is in charge. Either way Pickles doesn’t look like a man to be messed with. When Hazel Blears was given this job a couple of years ago, there was an air of levity amongst commentators with few resisting the temptation to talk about her size. This time nobody has dared mention Mr Pickle’s size!
Grant Shapps has the distinction on being the housing minister who had the longest wait. As he is fond of saying, he shadowed four Labour housing ministers over nearly as many years before finally getting the job himself. So any criticism of inexperience is surely unfounded. He will be tasked with amongst other things replacing the national affordable housing programme, which funds housing associations, and overhauling the planning system.
Finally Liberal Democrat Andrew Stunnell, has been appointed a junior minister, probably with responsibility for housing . This may be a bit of a surprise, although he was Lib Dem housing shadow prior to Sarah Teather. And he is clearly highly regarded enough by his party leader to have formed part of the negotiating team that struck the coalition deal with the Conservatives.
By the way; much as it would have been great for her to be here too, Sarah Teather was appointed an Education Minister.
So will this rather motley crew be willing to do anything about getting empty homes into use. We know what they have said. In opposition Grant Shapps proposed changes to housing association funding to allow them to buy and lease private empty property. He also proposed powers for the public to force public owners of empty properties to get them into use. The Liberal Democrats proposed that empty homes should form a major part of a policy of increasing housing, pledging to get 250,000 empty homes into use.
All very different from the Labour government’s approach, which was to give local authorities powers to force private owners to put their houses in order
What strikes me is that the two coalition parties’ approaches aren’t so very different. They are both about encouraging housing associations to get involved in privately owned empty homes, they are both about incentives rather than coercion, and they both acknowledge that reused empty homes are a cost effective way of creating new housing. The fact that this issue wasn’t in the coalition agreement may in fact be a good sign. It may suggest that it isn’t contentious. If there are differences it is unlikely to be over approach, it’ll be scale. Will there be some minor tweaking to HCA funding, or will the government see this as a significant way of creating more homes?
Perhaps the answer to that lies in the influence of these new ministers. With due respect to Andrew Stunnell, this is likely to be a Conservative rather than Liberal democrat led issue. Although they have made far less play of it Conservative pledges to overhaul the funding system, reduce costs, and create a panning system that encourages rather than forces areas to accept more homes, could create a system that makes it a lot easier to get empty homes into use than build new homes. So perhaps the surprising conclusion is that whilst the housing industry may be moaning If you think that more should be done in getting homes into use there may be a lot to be very optimistic about.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Labour: no specific policy commitments
Conservatives: nothing in the manifesto, but policy on empty homes set out in 2009 housing green paper and 2009 empty property policy paper
Liberal Democrats: Costed manifesto commitment to bring 250,000 empty homes into use through grants and loans
Green Party: manifesto to be published tomorrow, but the party have already said that it will commit to halve the number of empty homes.
UKIP: Policy commitment to give greater compulsory purchase powers to local authorities to tackle empty homes
Plaid Cymru: Stated commitment to reducing empty home numbers and to reduce VAT to 5% on home refurbishment
SNP: no specific policy commitments
It’s good, in a curates egg sort of way, but I would of course, like to have seen more. This time next month at least one, and possibly more, of these parties will form the UK government and will be responsible for our county’s housing policy. Whoever that is will be faced with ensuring that the people of this country have somewhere decent to call home. For many years now, we have comforted ourselves that the house building industry will dutifully churn out new homes to match our demand for housing. All government had to do was fix the rules to make sure that the builders built a proportion that people on low incomes could afford.
But as with so many things the last couple of years have proved that systems that rely on perpetual growth don’t work when the economy turns down. What worked last decade probably won’t work in this one, that’s why we need new ideas and new ways to provide homes. Ideas like making the best use of the housing stock we have got, giving people the metaphorical and literal tools to create homes for themselves, creating new tenures of housing enabling people to rent and own homes in more flexible ways. The ideas are out there and have been adopted by many political parties. The next four weeks will see whether we will get a government with the imagination to introduce them.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Yesterday the Guardian reported that the housing vacancy rate is an enormous 25% higher than previously thought. That means that across the UK there may be 450,000 long-term empty homes. As they correctly point out this is enough to house a quarter of the families on housing waiting lists in this country. Now I know there are people that will say this is an oversimplification and Shelter will go on about needing to build new houses. Well are both are true but that doesn’t take away the significance of these findings.
Just imagine for a moment what would happen if a government introduced measures that really dealt with the problem. What would that do? Well, allowing for the difference between UK and England data , 450,000 homes would house 1.1 million people. As this graph shows, that’s enough to re-house every overcrowded household in England, everybody in temporary accommodation and every single homeless person. No mean feat!
Now, some will say, it’s just a one-off – homeless households just keep forming. Well true enough, but bringing empty homes back into use can carry on too. Once the 450,000 are back into use, there would no doubt be a whole load more homes that had become long –term empty. Getting those back into use would continue to address new housing need. Eventually of course the numbers of empty homes would run right down and as a source of new housing. But that’s a good thing. It would mean that the country was using it’s housing stock at optimum efficiency, which would in itself reduce the numbers of people falling into housing need, and massively reduce expenditure in dealing with the effects of the problem.
So what would a government have to do to really make an impact? We think just three actions would do it:
- Offer a financial stimulus to the building industry by redirecting part of the national affordable housing programme towards refurbishment of empty homes. The Liberal Democrats estimate that £3.3bn (out of a £17bn programme) would bring 250,000 homes into use.
- Encourage councils and public sector landlords to hand over surplus properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. And encourage them to help owners get their homes into use.
- Give home owners incentive to refurbish their own empty homes by reducing VAT rates on refurbishment to 5% - The FMB estimates that this would have a net cost of £102m-£550m
It’s not difficult or unaffordable. Indeed all of the costs would offset other costs elsewhere. And it’s not politically unrealistic either. Between them the three main political parties endorse all of these proposals. We just have to hold them to it and encourage whoever forms the next government to introduce all three.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Politicians of all colours talk of the importance of communities being empowered. Indeed the ministers I mention call themselves Secretary of State for Communities, and the civil servants I mention are in something called the Community empowerment directorate. But when, as in this case, a community took them up on their offer, the response was embarrassment and obscuration. Councils have (in my view correctly) been granted powers to compulsorily purchase land and buildings to improve conditions for the community. But where that fails communities have the right to demand redress. This community was let down first by its council and then by its government. I said it was dispiriting! But ironically there’s something uplifting here too. Despite all the obstacles the community didn’t give up and indeed still hasn’t. I’m a true believer that persistence pays. The desire to get something done is almost always greater than the desire to stop it. In the end if they are right they will prevail. I believe they are and they will.
Detroit has a claim to be the world’s vacancy capital. In its motorcity heyday in the 1950s it was the was the fourth most populous city in the United States. Today it has slipped to eleventh. The decline is not simply that others have overtaken it; Detroit’s population has gone backwards. The impact of this is dramatic. A survey last month showed a vacancy rate of a staggering 35% . Meaning more than 100,000 homes are standing empty.
There has been much soul searching about what can be done, but this week it appears Sir Peter Hall correctly predicted what would happen twelve years ago. Yesterday AP reported that new city Mayor Dave Bing is set to announce that 10,000 houses are to be cleared to make way for farmland.
Of course we know something about this idea in the UK with similar announcements having been made about the future of post industrial cities in the north of England at the end of the last century. The programme that ensued (housing market renewal) originally planned to clear 400,000 houses under rather pessimistic sounding terms like “managing decline” As far as I can recall nobody at the time suggested that the land should be used for farming (an industry that appeared to be in terminal decline itself at the time) But in the decade that has followed the language and the aspiration has subtly changed and now housing market renewal talks about rebuilding housing markets and communities. Some even claim that objective now is for the programme to increase population and housing supply. This is a low point for Detroit, and at such times getting rid of the problem might seem to be the best idea. In the UK it turned out the doomsayers were wrong. With national population increasing our post-industrial cities have begun to recover. The concept of clearance merely as a method of reducing housing supply has been mercifully ditched. Sir Peter Hall may have predicted the response correctly, but hopefully in the end he will be proved wrong.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
But who or what is Crichel Down? Well it turns out that it’s an area of farmland in Dorset. It was requisitioned by the government for bombing practice at the beginning of World War 2 . Winston Churchil gave an undertaking at the time, that all requisitioned land would be given back after the war. It wasn’t, and indeed parts of Salisbury plain including the whole village of Imber remain in government ownership for military use today. Crichel down had another fate, after the war ownership was handed over to the ministry of agriculture who the leased it out at vast profit. The original owners were understandably cheesed off with this arrangement, and began campaigning for the return of their land. After many years they were successful, an enquiry was launched which ultimately ended in the resignation of a cabinet minister and the establishment of rules (the Crichel Down Rules) that are still in use today.
The pity is that the Luton homes were boarded up and not temporarily let. Had they been rented out they would be in habitable condition today and would have provided homes for seventy three households who currently have no home. The Luton case is not a happy one, taking property off people never is. But at least the prospect of a happy ending is possible, and in rather shorter timescale than it took on the North Circular Road.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Last week saw a significant announcement by the government that will see it invest £1million to develop schemes to bring empty homes into use in 17 areas of the country. It also sets up a national training programme to help councils across the country develop skills in bringing empty homes into use. It took six months of encouragement, lobbying and campaigning by us with help from the Chartered Institute of Housing, the HCA academy and officials at the CLG, and it’s great news.
But, I suspect, unless you’re directly affected, announcements like this probably just come and go. If they do, consider this, this is the eighteenth major announcement on the issue in the last twelve months. Look at them together and I think that cumulatively it’s beginning to add up to something much larger. There is an emerging consensus that the job of ensuring that everybody gets a decent home is not just about building new homes. We can’t afford to build them all, and it’s better for communities if we keep people living in them.
If the last 18 announcements just came and went for you, here they all are:
1. Greater Flexibility on HCA funding to allow housing associations to buy empty homes – Party leader David Cameron launches Conservatives Empty Property Rescue Plan with Empty Homes Agency February 2009
2. More funding to assist housing associations renovate empty homes – New Conservative policy launched in Empty Property Rescue Plan February 2009
3. Allow non-priority need homeless people to self renovate empty homes with the possibility of equity stake reward. – New Conservative policy launched in Empty Property Rescue Plan February 2009
4. Equalise VAT rates on new build homes and costs of renovating empty homes –New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable with Empty Homes Agency February 19 2009
5. Amend commercial property rate relief rules to allow owners of empty commercial property used temporarily as housing to continue to claim rate relief- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009
6. Introduce a Repair and Renewal loan scheme for owners of empty properties if they agree to lease them for at least five years to housing associations as social housing. New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009
7. Allow housing associations and local authorities to use funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to refurbish newly purchased private empty homes; Liberal Democrats- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009
8. Make £40m available in HCA grant for short-life (‘property guardian’) housing. Liberal Democrats- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by Vince Cable February 2009
9. Announcement of greater support for local authorities to help get empty homes into use – CLG press release quoting then housing minister Margaret Beckett – March 2009
10. Announcement that funding would be made available from National Affordable Housing Programme would be made available for schemes to bring empty homes into use Speech by Trevor Beattie Director of Policy and Strategy Homes and Communities Agency at Empty Homes Agency Conference – March 2009
11. Equal funding available for housing associations to renovate empty homes as for new build schemes. Policy announcement by Sir Bob Kerslake Chief Executive of Homes and Communities Agency appearing on BBC Breakfast TV with The Empty Homes Agency. – March 2009
12. Requirement for all government bodies and agencies to publish details of empty properties they own. – New Conservative policy launched in Conservatives housing green paper June 2009
13. An extension of the PROD powers allowing the public to request the disposal of empty property owned by councils government departments and quangos New Conservative policy launched in Conservatives housing green paper June 2009
14. Sequential approach for creating homes giving priority for reusing empty homes – new Green party policy in speech by party leader Caroline Lucas July 2009
15. Self Start Housing allowing low income families to self renovate empty homes where regeneration schemes have stalled - New Liberal Democrat policy launched by shadow housing minister Sarah Teather in conference speech September 2009
16. North Circular Road investment scheme announced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. £57 million pledged for 80 empty homes to be bought and renovated for social housing – September 2009
17. Commitment to invest £1.4billion to bring 250,000 empty homes back into use New Liberal Democrat policy launched by party leader Nick Clegg with Empty Homes Agency January 2010
18. Government Pledges £1million investment in seventeen councils to help bring empty homes back into use. Announcement by housing minister John Healey. February 2010