Blog: Scaling up and minding the gaps
By Scottish Empty Homes Partnership national manager Kristen Hubert
(Last week) we released our recommendations about what financial incentive programmes we think are needed to unlock more of Scotland’s 27,000+ long term private sector empty homes.
We recently undertook some research into currently available funding and finance for private sector empty homes work (which has been collated in an updated Guide) and through this work as well as consultation with empty homes practitioners across the country we identified a number of gaps when it comes to the provision of empty homes funding.
These gaps are:
- Empty homes being renovated for owner occupation
- Empty homes being renovated for market rent or sale
- Funding for initial project planning and capacity building
- Grant funding options for local organisations and community groups.
We’ve put forward a number of suggestions going forward some of which are to follow on from what we think is working well and some of which are new.
In brief we’ve recommended:
- A rolling 3 year empty homes feasibility fund to enable owners and organisations to develop deliverable project plans (especially for multi-unit developments).
- A 2nd round of Town Centre Empty Homes Funding to complement the empty homes element in the upcoming Rural Housing Fund.
- A Scottish Empty Homes Community Grants Programme to encourage social enterprises, charities and other local organisations to pursue empty homes work to provide local housing and an income stream for local groups.
- An Empty Homes Regeneration Loan Fund. This fund would be aimed at owner occupiers, developers and others to bring long term empty homes back into use at market rates.
With regards to the proposed Community Grants Programme, there was a similar successful scheme of this kind carried out in England from 2010-2015 which resulted in a range of local groups creating both specialist housing and training opportunities for their client groups. Unity Trust Bank, Charity Bank, Social Investment Scotland and the Airdrie Savings Bank have agreed to look at introducing complementary empty homes loan fund products should the Scottish Government introduce a community grants programme which would enable any money granted from such a fund to produce even more housing units. If this idea is progressed we see much more potential for linking in with social banks to realise both the housing supply and social impact outcomes that such work could achieve.
The Empty Homes Regeneration Loan Fund recommendation is based on what has worked well elsewhere in places like Kent and Wales. This sort of a fund would also recognise that there is a supply and community benefit to this work even when it doesn’t stack up at affordable rents. There is currently Scottish Government Empty Homes Loan Fund money available in many councils but it can only be used if your project stacks up for affordable rent or sale. Of course this is a great outcome when it works but it does mean there is greater potential for increasing housing supply that isn’t being realised when the numbers don’t fit the affordable housing model. We think there is a case for a fund like this that could achieve outcomes in terms of housing supply, community safety, regeneration, employability and energy efficiency goals.
We also are enthusiastic about the potential for feasibility funding. We’ve seen this work in Perth & Kinross Council and we are excited that it will be part of the upcoming Scottish Government Rural Housing Fund. We want to see more of this and on a national scale. We think a rolling Empty Homes Feasibility Fund would enable people and organisations to develop viable projects that are truly deliverable. We also think it would send a strong message that even when converting empty property looks difficult we need to make every effort to find a solution. We do after all have finite assets of both land and property and we need to make every effort to make sure we are using them to their full potential.
Read the full recommendations: Empty Homes Financial Incentives Recommendations 2016.