Plans to offer houses for just £1 in Liverpool underway

A new scheme which aims to take control of derelict and rundown houses in Liverpool is set to get approval by Liverpool’s mayoral cabinet this Friday. The scheme, which if it gets backing, will see some of the houses in the worst state of repair, be sold off for just £1, is an attempt to get people back into certain areas.

Photograph: Gary Calton

Photograph: Gary Calton

The scheme, which is being dubbed ‘homesteading’, is a sort of small-scale refurbishment strategy, that if approved, would help to tackle the scourge of empty, run-down houses, and if proves to be successful, there is no reason why the scheme could not be rolled out over the UK in other run down areas.

The specific area which is be targeted is called Granby’s Four Streets, and is situated in a corner of Liverpool. Historians state that the Victorian streets in this area were once arguably some of the city’s loveliest, however, after a series of housing blunders, including the fated £2.3bn housing market renewal (HMR) scheme – axed in 2011 by the coalition government, this area is now more renowned for empty houses in derelict streets. In fact, in 1981, this area was more famous for the Toxteth riots.

Photograph: Empty Homes

Photograph: Empty Homes in Stoke on Trent

In recent times the council have acquired these houses and have boarded up the windows and doors to stop further vandalism. The problem being with leaving properties like this is that many of the houses have now fallen into such a state of disrepair, that they are virtually unsellable, with some of the fronts of the houses now having collapsed into the small gardens, leaving yawning holes in the walls, above the bay windows.

Photograph: Empty Homes

Photograph: Empty Homes in Liverpool

While the council have dilly dallied about what to do with these properties, the community involved have taken matters into their own hands, and have started to campaign to save this area. Street artists have painted the metal grilles on the vacant houses in colourful hues, and flowers and other up lifting images have been daubed on doors and windows.

The new homesteading proposal is being pioneered in Stoke-on-Trent, where around 70 ex-HMR properties are being released for £1 each, and in an effect to get local residents buying up these properties, a £30,000 low-interest loan has been offered to help them renovate the houses. And housing campaigners have been urging other afflicted authorities to consider doing the same.

Liverpool’s homesteading plan follows the collapse of a many other proposals to inject money into the area and help to renovate these properties, but as all other attempts have failed, residents are now looking to more local schemes. If the new proposal goes ahead, new buyers will have to commit to living in the properties for five years at a minimum.

However, not all councils are keen on renovating existing properties, as just 200 metres away from Granby, plans have also been announced to demolish 280 terraced houses in the Welsh Streets area of the city. Under this proposal, it is expected that 37 homes will be refurbished and 150 new ones built. However, many local residents are against this type of scheme, and want to see more of the original houses retained and given over to creative refurbishments and grassroots homesteading type approaches.

Photograph: Empty Houses

Photograph: Empty Houses

The problem with this type of scheme is that the areas involved have been allowed to become so rundown that no one actually wants to live there anymore. But if feedback from local residents is anything to go by, people would gravitate back into these areas if they were given autonomy into how the areas were managed.

It is perhaps a no-brainer that people do not want to live in streets where the majority of houses are boarded up and rundown, but as soon as renovations start to take place, these streets then begin to fill up and the whole nature of the street changes.

The Liverpool homesteading scheme is not the first time this idea has been tried out. In 1998 Newcastle city council sold six houses to local residents  for £1 each in the deprived North Benwell district. This was a particularly rundown area which suffered from  acute demand problems and a haemorrhaging population. The houses that were sold off for £1 each had belonged to the council and had lain empty for years. The houses were sold to local families on the housing register who renovated them with the help of a small grant. In 2008, it was reported that three of the houses were still owned by original homesteaders, the others having been sold to new families. And the good news is that the road now has no empty properties, in short it has become an ordinary residential street.

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