Rebecca Dennis and Chris Benn bought their first ever home for just £1, in a radical regeneration scheme run by Stoke-on-Trent. Six months later, the house is worth £60,000. It begs the question of why we're not seeing more of these kinds of projects.
Stoke Council launched the scheme back in 2012. The idea was to take derelict properties, and sell them off for just £1 each. The buyers were also given access to a low-interest loan of £30,000, to help them renovate the house. In return they had to promise to bring the house back to life, and stay in it for at least five years.
The Telegraph reported that Dennis (aged 21) and Benn (aged 22), spent every penny of the £30,000 on doing up their two-bed mid-terrace home in the city, and will pay it back over the next ten years. The work required on the property was substantial. They had to insulate the house and put in an extra supporting wall.
The property had previously had three bedrooms, but because the bathroom pipes ran through one of the rooms, the council said it was unsafe. They boxed in the pipes, gave the master bedroom a walk-in wardrobe, and made the bathroom bigger instead. They also had to put in a new kitchen and redecorate the entire property.
Why not roll it out?
The success of this project begs the question of why more councils are not involved with this sort of scheme. For families it not only enables more people to get onto the property ladder, it also has the potential to close the yawning gulf between the number of homes available in the UK and the number of families looking for somewhere to live.
With housebuilding at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s, and around 61,000 families classed as homeless, surely some of the 635,000 empty homes throughout the UK could help bring an end to the housing shortfall.
For the councils, meanwhile, it solves the endless headache of derelict properties. Liverpool, for example, was built to house 800,000 people - but a few years ago fewer than 450,000 lived there. Empty homes attract crime and anti-social behaviour. They cause the area in general to decline, which in turn breeds more problems. By bringing in committed households, who have a vested interest in improving the property and the area, the councils stand to save a great deal in the long run.
Yet so far Stoke is one of only two councils - the other being Liverpool - with schemes like this. The problem is that cities have to have a serious enough empty homes issue for it to consider investing the kind of cash that these schemes require.
Stoke-on-Trent, for example, will spend £3 million on helping people renovate 124 homes in the city. They have also invested in CCTV and more policing in the area, in order to help eradicate some anti-social behaviour. At a time when councils are having to make all kinds of cuts, this kind of investment is not going to be easy to find.
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