Treading a tightrope
First Published 01 January 2016
The fact that many working age people in social housing haven’t got a job means they are only a short step away from homelessness, says Kate Davies
Local authorities are required to house homeless people and, as publicly funded bodies, housing associations are required to offer a supporting role.
In the 1960s, when the Notting Hill housing association was formed, tenants were being harassed by landlords such as Rachman. We set about trying to prevent evictions, provide reputable housing management and renew rundown properties. We let homes to childless couples, working households and the elderly. In so doing, we created mixed communities without trying.
Today, harassment is almost unknown in the private rented sector -but social housing, which was widely available to the average working household in the 1960s, is now in short supply.
Notting Hill has had to adapt its business model to these new circumstances. We want to help people help themselves. This starts with getting people off the street and into a decent home. But this is just the first step. Our role is as much about moving people on as about moving people in.
Homelessness comes in a number of guises and requires a variety of solutions. What works for young, single homeless people is not the answer for families or older people. Notting Hill believes in the need for more social housing, but increasing supply using the private rented sector and creating more movement in the stock could play a big part.
Our business model offers a range of homes, with different types of tenure and price points to households in need.
But the fact that most working age people in social housing are not in jobs remains a major challenge. Worklessness means tenants are only a short step away from homelessness. Without work they lack choice or the ability to move on. Others remain insecurely housed, waiting years for a social rented home. We need to help people into work and into home ownership -if they can afford it -to improve turnover. Social housing can become a springboard to a better life. Notting Hill works closely with tenants to help them make the step out of poverty and into work and suitable housing tenure. For supported housing tenants we offer our own ‘into work’ support for individuals lacking skills and work experience. We provide volunteering opportunites, then employment training, childcare and help with saving through our Rent Plus scheme.
We offer a range of tenancies, including temporary rented housing, market rented housing (where people can stay indefinitely), homes for sale and shared ownership as well as social rented. The finance from sales enables us to subsidise rents and services -and do more for homeless people.
All tenants have the right to buy a share in their home, at any time, and we are one of the few associations which gives people the option of ‘staircasing down’ if they find themselves in financial difficulty.
Kate Davies is chief executive of Notting Hill housing association.