Council leader John Clancy writes ‘Building housing here and now is our first priority’ and to this Our Birmingham adds a recommendation to reuse empty housing.
Instead of looking at ‘developing’ green spaces in Sutton Coldfield, Harborne and on Solihull’s floodplains, why not renovate empty buildings such as this long-neglected Georgian terrace (above) sadly lining Highgate’s Moseley Road?
Justin Parkinson wrote an article in a December BBC News Magazine with a comprehensive account of empty housing in Britain from which this graph was taken.
Councils in England can charge owners 50% extra in council tax if owners leave properties empty for two or more years – a deterrent for many, but by no means to the wealthiest investors.
Another power is a compulsory purchase order, applicable only if officials can show they’ve tried to encourage the owner to bring a building back to “acceptable” use.
Community Campus ’87 was formed by a group of concerned individuals who were motivated to do something about the growing crisis of youth homelessness on Teesside in the mid 1980’s.The primary aim was simply to provide housing with support, to enable homeless young people to gain the skills and experience to get and then keep their own place to live.
Ian Cockerill, one of the founding members of Campus, reports that in 1987 they saw over 350,000 jobs disappear across the north east almost overnight. The life chances for the young were limited. Those who were young and homeless after a poor start in life, had even fewer. Housing accessible for homeless young people was in the private sector, expensive to the tax payer in housing benefit terms, lucrative for the provider but of desperately poor quality and security of tenure. He remembers:
“All around us empty property stared back, assets in our community, public and private, working for no one, wasting away. We decided we would do something about it and we did”.
In the early 1990’s, the Key Skills Project was born and developed in Middlesbrough – it later led to the formation of Community Campus Trading Ltd. The project focused on renovating empty properties which presented a working environment for homeless young people and the opportunity to gain valuable construction skills and qualifications in construction, building maintenance, painting and decorating services. Once the renovations were complete, good housing was available to these young people.
A model for Birmingham to consider – reminiscent of the early practice of Balsall Heath’s Jericho housing project.
Housing –1 may be seen here.