Empty council properties that were falling into rack and ruin are now providing homes for Bristol’s homeless and refugees.
Hussan Idlin’s family had all been crammed into one room before moving into their new place on Friday. Now, happily settled into the compact but clean ground floor flat, they say that having a proper home has transformed their lives and enabled them to forge a future in the city.
Forced to leave his job and loved ones to flee war-torn Iraq, Hussan was eventually granted refugee status and a permit to work in the UK, but was still homeless and had to constantly move from one temporary hostel to another.
He and his family now have a roof over their heads for the foreseeable future, thanks to a city council-run scheme under which social enterprise Ashley Community Housing (ACH) has paid for extensive renovations on empty, derelict houses in exchange for 10 year leases at peppercorn rent.
“I moved to Bristol to apply for a job here and Ashley Community Housing helped me with everything. They helped reunite me with my family,” Hussan told Bristol24/7.
“It’s so good for my family now. Before we came here, we were all squeezed into one room. Now, I can go to college and my wife, Sura, is going to learn English and my son, Mohammed, can go to school.
“I have friends here in Bristol, English friends who have helped me and supported me so much. I just want to say thank you to them and ACH.”
The scheme that is open to homelessness charities and social enterprises not only brings disused properties back into use to help address the city’s housing crisis, but also helps provide skills training as future tenants have been given the opportunity to work on the refurbishment.
“There is a huge problem with homelessness in Bristol and, in particular, people who are refugees,” says Said Mohamed, housing manager for ACH.
“We accommodate single homeless people in shared accommodation. We have been finding it difficult getting properties, mainly because we rely on long term leases from landlords, but with the current market and a shortage of housing, it meant we could not house as many people as we want to.
“This scheme will help more people and put a roof over their heads. It will have a huge impact on those who cannot afford to rent privately.
“We hope in the future that we will be able to do more with the council and also other landlords.
“The other impact is in providing skills because a lot of people had jobs in their own countries but struggle to get work when they are here. This is a way into the job market.”
Speaking at the official opening of the newly renovated homes on Thursday, cabinet member for housing Paul Smith talked about the project.
“It was during the mayoral election campaign, the city council was putting properties like this on the market. Marvin [Rees] said we should not be selling off property, particularly in central areas, we should be bringing it back into use. We went to homeless charities and said if you can provide the money to do these properties up, you can use them for your client group.
“We went to homeless charities and said if you can provide the money to do these properties up, you can use them for your client group.
“We are getting homeless people housed, very often with a link to providing skills training and getting empty properties back into use at no cost to the council.”
Bristol charity 1625 Independent People was one of the first to take advantage of the scheme and their first properties opened in February to provide homes for young people.
Main photo left – right: Matt Rogers (ACH communications officer), Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn, Fuad Mohamed (CEO of ACH), Paul Smith, Andy Burkitt (chair of ACH), Said Mohamed and Khalid Jama (ACH volunteer).