Greater Manchester’s empty housing stock is potentially a prime resource for providing more social and other forms of housing, writes Guy Horne – but public and private bodies must work together to make this happen
WITHOUT question, homelessness is a major issue in Greater Manchester. According to statistics from Shelter in 2017, one in every 154 people across the region is homeless.
Homelessness, in this case, refers to any person who does not have a fixed, stable abode – this includes rough sleepers, those without rights to the property in which they currently reside, and even those living in housing that does not adequately meet government standards.
This October marked the beginning of Empty Homes Week 2018 – a national campaign aiming to tackle the housing crisis by utilising Britain’s available stock. Currently, there are more than 600,000 empty properties across the UK, with over 200,000 of them empty for six months or longer.
Likewise, there are over one million people on the waiting list for social homes, which poses the inevitable question of why empty homes are being overlooked in favour of new build projects.
Improving existing homes
There is an array of benefits to renovating current housing stock. Typically, it is a simpler task than building from the ground up, so results can be achieved quicker. Assuming that a home is structurally suitable, these projects can bring houses up to an adequate standard in a matter of weeks. This speed of delivery can be vital, especially at times when finding homes for the most vulnerable in our society is imperative – before winter, for example.
Renovating is also cheaper than building from scratch. Financial constraints have escalated the housing crisis in recent years, with social housing proving particularly problematic for cash-strapped local authorities. Improving the quality of vacant homes is often a cost effective way to increase the number of affordable homes available.
To get the full potential out of empty homes, it’s important to target locations where housing demand is high and access to vacant properties is achievable. Greater Manchester is the perfect example of this.
It’s no secret that Manchester’s property market is booming, yet there is a critical undersupply of affordable accommodation across the city. The Government has recognised the need for investment and has pledged £2 billion to building social homes. However, this figure won’t be enough to solve the problem.
The Northern Powerhouse initiative has made boroughs of Greater Manchester very appealing. Previously overlooked areas have become more attractive thanks to regeneration plans, better commuter links and affordable prices. Transforming existing properties in these locations into satisfactory homes is the best way to meet demand across both the social housing and PRS sectors.
However, renovation projects are not easy. The refurbishments must reach a certain quality, as outlined by the Government’s Decent Homes Standard.
Strategic collaborations between private developers and local authorities are pivotal to unlocking the potential of Greater Manchester’s empty homes. Developers have the expertise to identify stock ripe for redevelopment and carry out the renovation work, while social housing organisations can ensure that these homes are used to rehouse the most vulnerable citizens.
These partnerships can help Greater Manchester to achieve its overall regeneration aims, which should be to battle the overwhelming demand for affordable housing. Focusing on improving the quantity and quality of social homes reflects the area’s specific housing needs – at present, there are too many people waiting for too few affordable homes.
Many people do not possess the financial resources to rent alone privately, so shared housing, co-living and HMOs are particularly effective ways to combat the problem.
Using unfilled properties to create more shared housing opportunities can be another way to help to alleviate the housing crisis across Greater Manchester.
The creation of these homes is just the beginning – the ultimate goal is to create stronger communities. The renovation of existing buildings into social housing has the power to create mixed tenure neighbourhoods that are more cohesive.
To bring this to fruition, there needs to be greater investment in community facilities. Vulnerable members of society require more than just housing – they must be able to access vital services every day. Greater emphasis on adult social care, community facilities and suitable work and education training centres could help to increase overall quality of life.
Empty homes can also be used to provide temporary relief. Housing Social, a subsidiary of HS Property Group, works with landlords and agents to house homeless people and families who find themselves struggling to pay rent. Converting more empty properties across Greater Manchester into accommodation like this can help provide relief to struggling citizens.
Ultimately, empty properties present a key opportunity to address our housing concerns, while strengthening communities. Transforming Greater Manchester’s vacant homes into sought-after social housing and HMOs is something both public and private bodies need to work together to do.
Guy Horne is a co-founder of HS Property Group