Leeds housing focus: Renovating empty homes for those in need in community

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An alternative to building new homes for affordable rent is bringing back into use empty homes for those in need in the community.

This is the method of community-led housing undertaken by not-for-profit organisations in Leeds such as Canopy, GIPSIL, LATCH and the Empty Homes Doctor.

GIPSIL was originally short for Gipton Supported Independent Living when it launched in 1992, initially to help manage council tenants in Gipton who were struggling to live on their own and causing anti-social behaviour.

In 2013, it started doing empty homes work and is now on its 30th empty home renovation.

These are used as ‘trainer flats’ where vulnerable young people can gain experience of living on their own - with GIPSIL’s support - before moving into longer term accommodation.

The organisation is currently creating a new network of homes for 10 young people who have left the care system or are children in need in Leeds who would benefit from round-the-clock care and support.

GIPSIL bosses are in discussions with Leeds City Council about taking over some properties which will also have the capability for 24/7 staff presence.

Development manager Paul Belbin said: “For young people who have been in residential care, be it residential homes or foster care and so on, they could be rehoused straight into local authority tenancies but they may not have the life experience to manage that successfully.

“They are a fairly small group of young people for whom that doesn’t work because their lifestyles are too chaotic or they’re too vulnerable.

“It’s something that we really felt the need for, having grown our other young people’s services, and said ‘great, for the majority that works but we need something else’. Working closely with GIPSIL is Canopy, which provides a ‘self-help’ housing opportunity for people who are homeless. Those in desperate need for a house are identified as future tenants and then they themselves get involved in the renovation of their future home, alongside volunteers.

They get to choose how they would like their house to look while also making links with their new community - members of which make up some of the volunteering workforce.

Alex Leccardi, Canopy’s property manager said: “We are self-help-led community housing so people that we house will work on their own property to make it their own home. There are not many other organisations doing that, if any.

“A lot of the volunteers are from the community the house is in so that creates a social network and friendships within the community, for the people who are going to live there.”