6) Community Empowerment- Self help housing

Self Help Housing

We have a major housing shortage in the UK with new household formation driven by birth rates,divorce rates,longevity and migration exceeding new homes production creating spiralling house prices. At the same time out of a housing stock of circa 22 Million dwellings we have almost 1Million which stand empty at any given time.

New build project are often complex and expensive.  A simpler and quicker option (which often doesn’t require planning permission) is using vacant properties. These are often ordinary street properties, flats over shops or redundant commercial properties. This has become known as ‘self-help housing.

Community organisations have plenty of valuable local knowledge. You will know where to look for suitable properties and possibly who owns them; or able to find out who does.

If your group has no money available for purchase, you may still be able to lease for a period long enough to bring it back into use and recover your outlay. If the landlord is a local authority or a housing association it might make it easier to do a deal. There are many examples of organisations that have gone down this route and made it work very successfully.

If you are able to secure a grant or a loan, it may be possible to purchase one or more properties. Unfortunately the £50m Empty Property Community Grants Programme which helped many groups into self-help housing has now come to an end). There are still some options for securing grants and loans.

One route is Asset Transfer which refers to the process under which an owner, usually a local authority, is persuaded to transfer a property, or properties, either at nil cost or at a greatly discounted cost, on the basis that the recipient organisation will renovate them and bring them back into use.


Getting grant funding to cover the revenue costs of setting up a self-help housing project is probably easier that getting grants towards capital costs (acquisition and/or renovation), which are less common. However some trusts and foundations will finance capital works, and it might also be possible to get Lottery funding via Power to Change (if you qualify as a community business). Even some local authorities make grants for bringing empty properties back into use.

There are also loans available from social investors like Charity Bank and Big Issue Invest which may be willing to lend you money, providing you can demonstrate that it will be possible to pay it back from your future rental income. It might even be possible to get a low interest loan from your local authority.

Renovation works

A lot depends on the physical state of any prospective properties. The more work involved the more expensive it will be. Renovating individual properties in reasonable condition should be possible and by and large, expensive consultants/architects are not required. Usually the services of a good surveyor, who is familiar with building and safety regulations, will be adequate. There are even some organisations that will help with finding pro bono technical help. As a small community organisation it may be possible to secure deals on material from suppliers or even get free materials. It may be possible to carry out some of the work yourselves on a volunteer basis, but a builder is likely to be needed for the more complex or heavier tasks such as roofing, electrics, gas etc. If you are using a builder, then look for someone local with whom you can develop a good working relationship or possibly even a bigger builder willing to do some free/discounted work for you as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment. Quite a lot of organisations involved with self-help housing formalise their use of volunteers to provide some form of training and even apprenticeships. To do this they often develop relations with local colleges and link into formal qualifications.

Management & maintenance

You have to allocate resources to housing management and select your tenants in light of these carefully. Budgets are required for maintenance, tenancy matters including rent collection to cover your outings, including repayment of any loans.

On new initiatives it costs nothing to talk to us. Our conversations are in the strictest confidence and covered by both our confidentiality agreement & Terms of Business as displayed on this website.Please call John Brennan on 01803852270 or email john@caracommunity.co.uk.