Published: 08:00, 13 May 2014
An empty town-centre office block has been turned into seven new homes as part of a project to convert unused buildings into affordable places to live.
The £600,000 transformation of 127 Sandgate Road, Folkestone, into one and two-bedroom apartments was made possible with a £236,000 interest-free loan from a Kent County Council initiative.
Property developers Sirajul Islam and Dr Altaf Hossain were able to access the cash after agreeing to let the homes at 80% of their market value, under the No Use Empty campaign’s Affordable Homes initiative.
Tenants at the renovated five-storey terraced block – in the heart of the town – can expect to pay about £330 a week for one of its six one-bedroom apartments, rather than around £410.
After being referred to No Use Empty by Shepway council – and being given advise on how to get through the planning process – the interest-free loan scheme gave Mr Islam and Dr Hossain the confidence to invest £400,000 of their own money into the renovation.
Under the initiative, the seven apartments will be let for five years by social housing provider AmicusHorizon, guaranteeing rental income for the two developers.
Once the five years is up, the pair then can sell or continue to rent the property.
Having been bought at auction for £345,000 in February last year, the pair already have a significant return on their investment, with the development now valued at £1.2m.
Mr Islam said: “After 18 months of hard work we are delighted the new homes are now complete.
“We knew the building had tremendous potential, but there is considerable risk involved in a project of this scale.
“Without the support of Shepway Council, the access to capital provided by No Use Empty and the partnership with AmicusHorizon, it simply would not have been viable.
“We are grateful to all of those that have supported us on this project.”
AmicusHorizon new business manager Colleen Tickle said: “We have long supported Kent’s No Use Empty scheme as a means of delivering much-needed new homes across the county, and are a proud partner in the Affordable Homes initiative.
“Not only will the Sandgate Road project dramatically improve the street scene and help rejuvenate the area, it provides high-quality homes in a good location.
“We anticipate strong interest when we begin marketing the homes.
The £236,000 loan – to be repaid over five years – is a record figure for the No Use Empty campaign.
It is also the first time it has been used to convert commerical space into residential use.
Since launching in 2005, the initiative has brought 3,320 unused homes back into use, issuing £10.7m of loans and allowing private developers to spend £14.3m of their own cash on the renovations.
KCC cabinet member for economic development Mark Dance said: “This is a landmark project for No Use Empty.
“Not only is it our largest ever project by value and first office-residential conversion, it marks a new phase in the initiative – to transform larger empty commercial premises into much-needed affordable housing.
“We know that the primary obstacle to these projects is finance, and by offering interest-free loans of up to £250,000 we hope to unlock many similar projects in Folkestone and across the county.
"We encourage anyone that sees potential in long-term empty buildings to get in touch, we would like to help.”
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