Toolkit urges councils to convert empty buildings into homes for care leavers

Emily Harle
Thursday, June 22, 2023

A toolkit and app have been launched to help local authorities, charities and community-based organisations convert vacant commercial buildings into social housing for vulnerable groups, including young care leavers.

Three new builds in London will provide homes for young care leavers. Picture: Habitat for Humanity
Three new builds in London will provide homes for young care leavers. Picture: Habitat for Humanity

The Empty Spaces to Homes toolkit, developed by Habitat for Humanity Great Britain, offers a step-by step guide for local authorities, charities and organisations wishing to acquire and convert commercial spaces into homes for vulnerable groups to tackle homelessness in their local area.

The charity has also launched an empty space spotter app to accompany the toolkit, which crowdsources the locations of vacant buildings suitable for housing projects to create a database of properties.

An estimated 7,000 commercial buildings across the UK, currently owned by local authorities, have been vacant for more than a year, the charity states, adding that these have the potential to create more than 19,500 residential units. Its research also found that there are an estimated 165,000 empty privately-owned commercial and business premises across the UK.

Habitat for Humanity GB piloted the Empty Spaces to Homes model in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, in partnership with investors M&G plc, and have converted two properties into high quality accommodation for young people leaving the care system.

Once complete, the pilot programme will see three properties transformed into accommodation for care leavers, and is expected to provide housing for more than 100 people over 15 years. The model is currently being developed for use in other areas across the UK.

A corresponding toolkit and pilot programme is also underway in Poland, where the first phase of construction for six flats has been completed, housing vulnerable people including refugees, disabled people and people experiencing long-term unemployment.

Tum Kazunga, national director of Habitat for Humanity GB, said: “Inflation, the cost-of-living crisis and forced displacement affect the most vulnerable, and providing social housing by repurposing unused buildings is one of the quickest ways to provide housing support.

“Our aim is to increase the capacity of social housing across the UK and Europe by working with a collaborative network of local housing authorities, charities and private sector partners.”

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