A beginner’s guide to Self Help Housing
How Can we Get Hold Of Properties?
It depends on what’s empty in your locality, but they could be:
- Properties owned by a local authority or housing association that are awaiting improvement or redevelopment.
- Properties owned by other public bodies which are redundant or may have been bought up in advance of delayed capital project, such as a new road scheme, hospital or school
- Properties in private ownership that are standing empty.
You may be able to identify a property or properties for yourself, or you may want to approach one of the owners above and ask them what might be available.
How long might they be available and will the owner charge rent?
The “life” of the property will depend on what is ultimately going to happen to it, but it could be anything from a matter or months to five, ten or even fifteen years. It’s likely not to be practical to take on anything with too short a life (perhaps less than a year) and it may be that’s it’s offered initially for a certain period, which can be extended as time goes by.
The owner will usually charge some rent but the amount usually depends on:
- who owns the properties,
- why they are empty and
- what condition they are in.
either way, the rent needs to be small enough to make it economically viable to take them over and carry out any repairs that need doing.
How Should We Go About Setting Up A Project And Putting Forward A Proposal?
To persuade the owner to let you take on the property, you’ll most probably have to set up some sort of project, since they usually won’t hand over properties to an individual or even several individuals. They’ usually prefer to enter into an agreement with an “organisation” of some sort, which has clear aims and objectives ( eg to house and support certain sorts of people).
In addition, you may need to put forward a proposal in writing, setting out how you intend to use and run the properties. This will deal with issues such as:
- how you propose to repair and manage the property
- the benefits to the owner and community in terms of bringing the property back into use &
- your willingness to hand back the property at the end of the agreement.
How Can We Finance Any Repairs & Running Costs ?
The amount of money will be needed to bring a property back into use will obviously depend on its state of the property and for how long it’s available.
Many projects finance repairs by simply “recycling” the money that will be received from renting them out over the life of the property, and using it to pay for whatever works are necessary. However, depending on the circumstances it may be possible to get a grant from a local authority or via a housing association to carry out the works.
It may also be possible to get grants from local charities to cover some or all of the running costs.
How Can We Organise Any Necessary Repairs?
Depending on the extent of any repairs that need to be carried out and the amount of money available, it‘s possible to either use builders, do the work yourselves or to opt for some sort of combination of the two.
There are lots of repairs that can be undertaken by prospective occupants or volunteers , subject to the necessary health & safety considerations and quite often projects use work on site to provide training opportunities in building work .
For more information see Sections Organising Repairs To Properties,  Using A Volunteer Workforce  & On-Site Training Opportunities 
Agreements With Occupants & Landlords
By and large, those interested in self- help housing are people, who for one reason or another, are not going to be offered a permanent tenancy with a local authority or housing association. These are likely to be single people who are not deemed to be “vulnerable”, couples, people leaving institutions of one kind or another, refugees etc.Because of the short term nature of the accommodation, it usually best to avoid housing people who really need long term accommodation because they are in some way vulnerable or have dependents.
Also because of the short term nature of the arrangement, it’s important to have the right agreements in place with tenants and landlords.