By Daniel Hunter

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is forming a partnership with Big Issue Invest to renovate empty properties into new affordable homes, whilst creating work opportunities for adults with a history of homelessness or long-term unemployment.

The Mayor has awarded a £10 million loan from his Housing Covenant to Big Issue Invest who help small community organisation’s to renovate empty homes or buildings to convert them into good quality affordable housing for Londoners to rent or part buy.

The funding will revolve over a 10-year period and result in up to 400 empty homes being transformed into good quality low cost housing. In addition it will provide long term unemployed people, veterans and out of work young people from across London the opportunity of employment and training in construction.

The Mayor’s Housing Covenant supports organisations proposing innovative ways of delivering affordable housing through a Revolving Fund and is one of a number of housing schemes the Mayor is delivering to boost affordable housing, stimulate building and fast track the delivery of thousands of much needed new homes. The proportion of empty homes in the capital has fallen dramatically under the Mayor, and at 0.7 per cent is now at the lowest level since the 1970s. Over 5,000 empty homes have been brought back into use through GLA housing programmes since 2008.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: “With the huge demand for housing it’s essential we get empty properties back into use, which is why I’m helping innovative projects renovate them back into much needed affordable homes. Big Issue Invest are masters of boosting community social enterprise and delivering key employment and training skills to the homeless and unemployed people who need our extra support. This funding sits alongside my affordable home programme which is on track to deliver 100,000 new low cost homes across the city.”

Speaking about the Fund, Big Issue Group’s Chair, Nigel Kershaw said “This is really exciting, the Fund helps to extend The Big Issue’s mission of preventing and dismantling poverty and creating opportunity. That we are offering homes and employment opportunities to vulnerable people makes this so important to us, as it’s all about preventing people ending up on the streets.”

Big Issue Invest is a specialist provider of finance to social enterprises. It provides investment from £50,000 to £1.7million and develops innovative financial solutions which help organisations tackle poverty and create opportunity.

Since 2005 Big Issue Invest has invested over £27m across the UK in more than 330 social enterprises, directly benefitting over 1.8m people, sustainably employing 3,200 and training 14,000. Amongst the successful projects they have supported is the Southwark based charity PHASES who have helped many former homeless people back into work by renovating empty homes, including ex- Ghurka, Bhakta Dhenga who was living in hostel accommodation and searching for work as a labourer.

Bhakta Dhenga said: “Since I started training with PHASES I have learnt so many things. I felt proud to be offered a full-time job in construction. People believed in me and gave me a chance to go ahead on a good path. I had the chance to move out of the hostel and finally get my own place. I am slowly building myself back up again, but I know that if I need help, there are people I can turn to so I'm not alone. “

The new loan will allows Big Issue Invest to finance and support more innovative housing projects undertaken by social enterprises and charities, like this one by PHASES. These projects will serve to increase the volume of affordable housing available in London, whilst creating employment and training opportunities for vulnerable people.

The Mayor’s commitment to getting empty homes back into use and boosting affordable housing is part of a package of wider measures he is promoting to stimulate house building. The Mayor also supports a number of rough sleeping services to help ensure no one should sleep rough on the capital’s streets. These services No Second Night Out, which has seen around three out of four new rough sleepers spending just a single night on the street since the project started, to the £5m Social Impact Bond programme helping long-term rough sleepers rebuild their lives over three years. Last Friday night the Mayor visited a number of these services across London and met a number of people with a history of homelessness the schemes are supporting.

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