What is self-help housing?

Many community led housing projects revolve around proposals for new build housing, but there’s sometimes another approach to securing housing which is to refurbish existing properties.  It’s come to be known as self help housing, since it often provides a range of opportunities for ‘hands on’ involvement by members during the refurbishment process - it can provide an ingenious way of regenerating neighbourhoods, along with meeting housing need. 

This is in contrast to ‘self-build’ which involves the building of new homes, rather than the refurbishment of homes involved in self help housing.

It’s sometimes thought that this is really only an option for inner cities, particularly in the North of England where property prices are more likely to be depressed and where there are higher levels of empty property, but in fact there are properties lying vacant all around the country that could be used: in total there are around 200,000 long term vacant residential properties in England. 

A two-pronged approach

Organisations generally acquire empty homes by:

Purchase & Refurbishment - where it’s necessary both to cover the cost of acquisition and refurbishment, which will depend on the location, size and the condition of the property.

Lease & Refurbishment - where it’s only necessary to cover the cost of renovation. Properties need to be leased for long enough to make it financially viable from a co-operative landlord, such as a local authority or housing association, and ideally at a pepper corn rent. This could be an option where there is no funding available to purchase properties and where a group wants to get up-and-running and house its members as quickly as possible, perhaps prior to embarking on a longer-term project. 

Types of property

As well as using residential properties there’s no reason why other buildings couldn’t be used. Some commercial buildings, like shops, can be used to create live-work opportunities for residents or accommodation plus space for new commercial activities and non-residential buildings such as redundant pubs and offices can also be used to create new accommodation.  

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.



Find out more about self-help housing

Read our guide to self-help housing for further details and inspiration

Read more about self-help housing