Self-Help-Housing.Org, set up in 2008 with funding from Tudor Trust, aims to  promote and support self-help housing initiatives. These initiatives involve groups of local people refurbishing or bringing back into use empty and derelict properties so that local people play a leading and lasting role in solving housing problems and creating stronger communities. This week we catch up with Jon Fitzmaurice OBE, Director to learn more about their work and the role of self help housing in the movement towards housing justice in the UK

What was the motivation behind creating Self-Help-Housing.Org?

In the 70’s and 80s  many community led housing associations came into being as a result of local action by local people – very often starting with a few properties that needed refurbishing, which provided an accessible “entry point” to setting up a housing organisation. This coincided with the availability of accessible finance from central government for these small organisations Latterly (during the 90s & 00’s) funding became far less accessible and really only available to larger sophisticated organisations which many of these small organisations had become!  The thinking behind SSH.Org was to try and help kick start a new cohort of community driven organisations, accessing housing via the refurbishment route – which is invariably quicker and less complicated than new build development.

For example, two such organisations, Canopy from Leeds and Giroscope from Hull  were presented with the 20I5-16 World Habitat Award in Quito in recognition of their work in creating homes out of empty properties and providing training and employment for local people.

In Hull where the government funded Market Renewal Strategy Pathfinder Programme  had ground to a halt, Giroscope have been working in partnership with the local authority buying up and repairing abandoned private sector properties in the Boulevard area, which are then repaired by Giroscope’s own local workforce. Thanks to the Coalition Government’s Empty Homes Community Grants Programme they were able to acquire and improve 48 properties between 2012-15 and have just bought their 100th property.

Meanwhile in Leeds, Canopy has been undertaking a similar programme working with volunteers and trainees in repairing properties in Beeston and bought 15 properties with EHCGP funding. Since the end of the Programme Leeds City Council has taken the very positive step of creating its own grants programme from its Right To Buy receipts, which Hull City Council has also adopted. . Being able to build up an asset base , which guarantees regular income and makes it possible to draw down loans ,  has transformed their prospects.

Here are two examples of community driven organisations, backed up by their local authorities, taking on challenges that larger well-resourced organisations often no longer want to address. In doing so they create housing, employment and they also regenerate the local area. Wherever these problems and opportunities exist, projects like these are needed, along with local authorities to follow in the footsteps of Hull and Leeds.

How do you think Self Help Housing or Community Led Housing can help towards housing justice in the UK?

I think that Community Led Housing has the potential to engage a very wide cross section of people, but as ever there’s a danger that better -resourced/ skilled people will be able to  capitalise on the opportunities that come forward, rather than people in poorer, less well-resourced communities who will find it more difficult to negotiate “the system” and who may ultimately lose out (A programme like Big Local, which actually has given £150m to 150 selected less well-resourced communities, is an attempt to get around this problem).

Self Help Housing or Community Led Housing  involve people that are committed to a particular local area, where they will produce housing, create investment and regeneration despite the fact there might be another location elsewhere e that is, ‘easier’, or more ‘profitable’ to invest in. Community led housing is more locality and community driven and  addresses local issues, rather than following market forces.

Do you see Self Help Housing as building a movement or joining an existing one?  If the former, what contribution does Self Help Housing make towards the movement for Housing Justice in the UK?

I think SHH, at best, can help to create a new cohort of grass roots housing organisations that mobilise and politicise  people from poorer communities and in so doing makes a contribution to promoting housing justice. SHH provides the tools and resources for local people who want to bring back into use empty properties to get organised, how to get hold of and borrow empty properties from their owners, where to go for funding, how to organise any necessary repairs, how to use volunteers & how to turn renovating properties into a training opportunity for example.

How does Self Help Housing encourage collaboration between organisations, individuals, and projects within the movement for Housing Justice?

Since SHH.Org started in 2008, an objective has been to create a network of like minded organisations that are in touch with one another and are capable of mentoring one another. Between 2012 -2016 it ran 27 regional seminars and 4 major conferences , plus a number of seminars with stakeholders, aimed at  bringing people together to talk about the community led housing projects they’re involved in, the issues they’ve faced and how they overcame those issues. In other words, using the general principles of community and social action to help communities and people to share knowledge, skills and ideas.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for the housing justice movement in the coming years and what role does Self Help Housing play in overcoming them?

The biggest challenge in the coming years is making sure that the new resources available from the MHCLG’s £163m Community Housing Fund are accessible to CLH organisations across the board and are not primarily seized on by what may only be one off new build start-up projects, focusing on housing which although it may be labelled as  “affordable” is really only available to people capable of financing shared ownership or other forms of Low Cost Ownership (LCO).

In general, those with more resources  and experience are better equipped to access funding , as they may already know how to produce a business plan, talk to lenders and go through the complicated process of applying for funding,  as opposed to individuals or local groups from less well-off communities that may not have similar experience and will need to learn these skills. So as mentioned above, SHH can provide the resources and tools to help local groups  access housing via the refurbishment route, which in many ways is an “entry level” to housing development, and  in doing so learn and familiarise themselves with how to access future funding opportunities and create new ongoing community housing businesses.

To see more about Self Help Housing, visit their website: http://self-help-housing.org/

Check out other organisations and initiatives that support and promote community led housing approaches:

http://wech.co.uk/

National Community Land Trusts Network

Confederation of Housing Co-operatives

The UK Cohousing Network

National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations