In Bristol, there are nearly 6,000 properties sitting vacant, and thousands more people are waiting for affordable housing. While local councils scramble to find solutions to the housing crisis, there is one solution to this problem that is not being utilised enough; one that can save public sector organisations money, including the police, whilst helping to provide affordable accommodation and improving community safety.
Whilst the number of people waiting for affordable housing grows nationally, there is an abundance of property within the public and commercial sector that, for whatever reason, are sitting empty that can easily be repurposed temporarily to provide affordable housing to those who need it.
When properties are left vacant, they soon fall victim to vandals and squatters, who ultimately take over the property and let it fall into disrepair. This costs owners, whom in many cases are local authorities, significant amounts of public money.
One example is Newton House, a residential care home situated in Bristol and previously under the ownership of South Gloucestershire Council.
When in early 2014 the Council ceased using the property as a residential care home, it approached Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd to manage the building on its behalf, the mandate being, through a period of repurposing and potentially new ownership to ensure its physical security and safeguarding whilst remaining, ideally, of benefit to the local community.
For the next three years, Ad Hoc Property, under the direct report and supervision of the company’s regional manager, Simon Wright, successfully managed Newton House, providing live-in Guardians who ensured the building was well-looked after.
Each of the carefully vetted Guardians paid, by market standards, an affordable licence fee, and in exchange were responsible for safeguarding the property, ensuring it was secure from illegal occupancy and damage. Local residents were delighted, secure in the knowledge that the building wouldn’t be a centre of attention for vandals or illegal occupants, together with all the associated problems.
Commented Mr John Smith, a spokesperson for South Gloucestershire Council; “Newton House in Bristol is just one example of the many positives of Guardianship for councils and other property owners. For three years, Guardians looked after and maintained it, giving us peace of mind and avoiding potential cost and damage,”
In September of 2017, Newton House was put on the market and was eventually purchased by an investment firm that takes on former care home properties. Preferring to use their normally adopted methods of vacant property safeguarding, they chose not to go down the Guardianship route.
Over time however the building has been increasingly the target of breaches and damage, to the extent that it is now a notorious call-out location for already stretched local police services. Not only has the building been occupied by squatters, but local youths have been regularly using the place to smash windows and damage fixtures, leading to numerous arrests.
“Over the past few months the place has become a real eyesore” says Jane Jones, local resident. “The place is literally covered in boards which is a like a green light to vandals. It’s intimidating and right on our doorstep.” she adds.
In Bristol last September (2017) there were a staggering 553 cases of criminal damage and arson, even before one counts the far higher number cases of anti-social behaviour which is also a consequence of vacant properties, especially in metropolitan areas.
When UK constabularies are already stretched to the limit, wanton property damage and squatting merely adds to the strain on policing resources locally, not to mention the other costs to the public purse.
The Guardianship model is attractive to public sector and commercial property owners, avoiding a near 100 per cent levy placed by the insurance sector on safeguarding a vacant property asset, plus the costs of manned security and of course repairs on top.
For private property owners, meanwhile, besides insurance premium savings, the economics also stack up, saving on community charge, which again can be levied heavily by councils when a property is not being used as living accommodation.