What is self-help housing?

Self-help housing is where local community organisations transform empty properties to increase the numbers of affordable homes for people who are homeless or are in housing need.

In 2017 research revealed that more than 200,000 properties had been standing empty for six months or more. 11,000 of them had been empty for over a decade.

Most of these derelict homes are in post-industrial towns in the north of England, with large numbers in seaside towns along the south east coast too. It's common for these same areas to have high unemployment levels and poverty rates.

A two-pronged approach

Self-help housing is an ingenious way of transforming neighbourhoods and helping people who are struggling to regain control of their own lives to grow in confidence and find decent and affordable housing at the same time.

The empty homes are brought back into use in a collaborative effort between teams of professionals and volunteers. Prospectus tenants are encouraged to help with the renovation of their future home. Not only does this help to develop a sense of pride and ownership, it equips people with valuable skills for the future.

The business models

Organisations generally acquire empty homes by:

  • buying them outright and using the rental income to cover the mortgage costs
  • leasing empty homes on favourable terms that are owned by local authorities, housing associations and other public and private bodies.

Self-help pioneers

Canopy and Giroscope are two separate housing charities that have been training homeless and vulnerable people to renovate abandoned properties for decades. They are pioneers of the UK movement which has now grown to more than 100 self-help organisations.

In 2016 the two organisations won a UN World Habitat Award celebrating their efforts and contribution to tackling the housing crisis.