Empty Spaces to Homes Investment Fund – Initial Introduction

At Habitat for Humanity Great Britain, we envision a world where everyone has a safe place to call home. We believe that a decent home helps to permanently break the cycle of poverty allowing families to achieve strength, stability, and self-reliance. Our global projects increase access to housing for millions worldwide each year. By working hand in hand with communities, since 1976 we have provided over 1.9 million homes and helped over 59 million people.
As part of the international federated Habitat for Humanity network, we address the UK housing crisis by piloting innovative solutions to contribute to nationwide housing provision. Join us in making homes a reality.


ES2H Investment Fund | Article Image


Empty Spaces to Homes

In 2021, our research identified 7,000 vacant commercial properties owned by Local Authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales, with the potential to create 19,500 residential units. Adding to this, an estimated 165,000 privately-owned empty premises across Great Britain could be converted into 458,700 homes.

Recognising housing as a bottleneck, Habitat for Humanity GB’s Empty Spaces to Homes initiative showcases scalable solutions. Through pilot projects in London, future ones in Scotland, and an international venture in Warsaw, we’ve developed a replicable model for transforming non-residential spaces into homes.

Our open-source toolkit aims to encourage adoption among local authorities, community groups, civil society organisations, and socially-minded private sector property landlords. Join us in making a meaningful impact on the UK housing crisis.


Addressing Persistent Barriers to Adoption

Legal Barriers: Presented by Change of Use, Planning Permissions, and Permitted Development

Habitat for Humanity is actively creating an enabling legal and policy environment. Our model is recommended as best practice in recent inquiries by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market and Housing Delivery and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness. Our 2024 UK advocacy strategy includes a dedicated campaign for Empty Spaces to Homes.


Financing and Fundraising: Which Our Current Toolkit Limits to Philanthropic Routes, Natural Ceiling, and High Competition

In addition to advocating for governmental funding, this document is part of an exploratory project leveraging the value of empty properties. We highlight the savings for local authorities and the long-term return on investment of a lease and repair model. This model may attract social and impact-led investors.


The Economic Benefits of Empty Spaces to Homes– An Investable Opportunity?

Historically, through our ‘lease and repair model,’ Habitat for Humanity GB raised philanthropic funds from the UK private sector, philanthropic bodies, and grant-funders. This income, supplemented by support from social investment organisations, funds capital works with an aim for local housing allowance-linked rents to reimburse the investment over a 15-year lease window. Each bedspace costs around £70,000 to develop, reimbursed via local housing allowance in 7 years, leaving 8 years of income for maintenance or other projects.

This income becomes more compelling when considering the cost of temporary accommodation for local councils. London Councils, the cross-party body representing the city’s 32 boroughs, reports that 169,393 people, including over 80,000 children, are in temporary accommodation. London Council’s also estimates that the capital’s 32 boroughs spend approximately £60m per month on such accommodation.

Habitat for Humanity London pilot projects demonstrated significant savings, with our retrofitted properties saving £950 per person per week or £49,400 per year compared to temporary accommodation. Applying a similar economic ratio in other high-pressure housing locations with a robust supply of local authority-owned empty premises, the Empty Spaces to Homes model offers substantial savings if funded by the local authority or a potential rate of return if funded by an investment vehicle.

Ethical Investment Diagram

Habitat for Humanity are exploring the potential to scope, and develop an Empty Spaces Investment Fund, capitalised by social investors, we believe this would galvanise a significant scale of retrofit of local authority owned properties and beyond. 

Our initial analysis of our pilot programming offers clear opportunity for the programme to deliver measurable impact against key ESG reporting metrics for the fund.  We have identified many clear environmental and societal wins, some of which are captured in the snapshot below:


E Contributions  S Contributions 
Embodied Carbon: Critical to reducing ECEs will be optimizing the built environment already in existence. Investors, with the support of governments, should assess extant building stock and empty homes to assess which can be adapted and reused as housing, thereby reducing the need for new construction. This is based on the understanding that “the greenest building is the one already built” (UNEP, 2020). Studies show that reusing an existing building can reduce emissions by 50% to 75% compared to what an identical new building would generate. Reducing ECEs through reuse, refurbishment, or retrofitting has the advantage of optimizing vacant or underused buildings, which at times can also regenerate the neighbourhoods around them, while preserving the traditional character of communities.  


Sustainable Land Use: By creating sustainable housing in urban and peri-urban locations the Empty Spaces to Homes approach helps to promote higher density  communities that are contained and reduce urban sprawl, protecting agricultural and amenity land, and make more efficient use of the existing urban land. This also promotes sustainable modes of travel such as walking, cycling, and public transport. Environmental, social, and economic benefits result from less dependency on cars and a reduction in GHG emissions. Higher densities and the close proximity of a larger population helps local businesses become more viable. 



Energy Efficiency & Water Conservation:  Retrofit of buildings offers creative opportunities to retrofit with energy and water conservation technologies. 

Affordable/Social Housing: Affordable housing is recognised as a universal social good within the Sustainable Development Goals. “Access to adequate, safe and affordable housing” is a core target for Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities. 

But housing is not just about ‘bricks and mortar’. Having a decent, affordable home is an important determinant of people’s health and well-being (Goal 3), has a positive effect on children’s education (Goal 4), can help people get and sustain employment (Goal 8) and can provide a route out of poverty (Goal 1). Housing’s carbon footprint can also be reduced through the right energy efficiency and construction measures (Goals 7 and 13). 


Community Regeneration: By bringing community back into underpopulated towns and   cities, our Empty Spaces programme can support the development of social, economic and cultural interactions, of ensuring substantial densification, while increasing spaces for public meetings and mixing, travelling by foot. Research shows that vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties invite crime and hasten the decline of a neighborhood, setting in motion a negative spiral toward violence.  Reducing conflict, crime, violence and discrimination, and ensuring inclusion, stable conditions and good governance are key elements of peoples’ well-being and essential for securing sustainable development. Security and justice are a means to achieving improvements in poverty reduction, reversing inequality and enhancing effective governance 





Next Steps

Initial meetings with financial services companies, and investment funds to seek advice and insight, have elicited instead offers of investment, so we are confident that this fund has a demonstrable investor audience which we would hope to grow and scale. However, to scope and support this investment fund opportunity in more detail, Habitat for Humanity GB now require in house resourcing and project management, seed funding for establishment, and funds to bring in expert consultation.  

At this stage, we are looking for partners with a track record of supporting innovation, and new models of financing to support with their insight, and philanthropic investment in our fund scoping and establishment 

For more information and to set up an initial introductory discussion do reach out to Tessa Kelly at: tkelly@habitatforhumanity.org.uk