Stoke-on-Trent City Council has launched the second phase of its award-winning empty homes project to transform vacant houses and bring them back into use.
Residents can apply to buy a renovated empty home as part of the innovative project – to be known as the Reviving Communities scheme.
In this second phase, the city council is investing £1.5 million to buy and refurbish up to 25 privately-owned but vacant properties in the Portland Street area of Hanley.
The first phase – which became commonly known as the £1 Homes scheme – was launched in 2013 and saw 33 properties in Cobridge transformed. The project attracted national and worldwide media interest, and picked up the Housing Initiative accolade in the 2015 Local Government Chronicle Awards.
In exchange for a £1 purchase price, Stoke-on-Trent City Council renovated the homes and the new owners agreed to repay the costs of renovation through a 10-year low-interest loan of £30,000.
Rigorous criteria was applied when choosing participants, as it will be for the second phase. The selection process prioritises applicants with strong local connections to the area, who are earning modest salaries that would ordinarily put home ownership beyond their reach.
The closing date for applications for the Reviving Communities scheme will be January 12, 2018. The eligibility criteria and application forms can be found online at www.stoke.gov.uk/revivinghomes.
Properties will be refurbished by local contractors through the city council’s repair company Unitas Stoke-on-Trent. It is anticipated that the first homes will be handed over to successful applicants in summer/autumn next year.
During the first scheme, before the renovations were completed, detailed work was done in partnership with the local community and Staffordshire Police to help revive the community spirit and a campaign to address social issues that presented potential barriers to social and housing market renewal.
This community-focused approach included the clearing of fly-tipping and rubbish hotspots by the whole community, and the makeover of the local play park.
As a result, the first year of the project saw a reduction in crime by 12 per cent, as well as improvements in housing conditions and health.
Councillor Randy Conteh, the city council’s cabinet member for housing, communities and safer city, said: “The award-winning empty homes scheme has provided an innovative solution for bringing a number of properties back into use in Stoke-on-Trent. The repayments from the first scheme are being reinvested in more empty properties – making this a sustainable project offering ongoing value for money for taxpayers and residents.
“The project focuses on providing something affordable, sustainable, imaginative and with the ability to bring back an element of pride to the neighbourhood. It not only enables hardworking people on modest salaries to buy homes they would not otherwise be able to afford, it helps to regenerate rundown parts of the city – adding to a sense of community for residents and helping to tackle social issues.
“The first phase of the scheme attracted national and worldwide media interest, and queries from other local authorities about how they could develop a scheme of their own.
“In preparation for the launch of the second phase, since late last year our private sector housing team has been communicating and negotiating with owners of empty properties in the Portland Street area. To date we have 12 long-term empty homes with the aim of acquiring up to a maximum of 25.
“It’s fantastic that we are now launching the Reviving Communities scheme, and we want to make sure that anyone who is interested in being part of it – and eligible to apply for a home – has a chance to be involved.”
Civil servant Gavin Pierpoint, aged 29, who was one of the first ‘£1 home’ owners, said: “There have been improvements to the surrounding area bought about because of the scheme as well as a reinvigorated community group.
“Regular community events have taken place in the area, providing both kids and grown-ups with something to do together. A gardening club has also been created, which provides produce for the area.”
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