Councils and charities frequently see housing associations as part of the problem when tackling homelessness and this must change, says David Bogle
The Homes for Cathy group of 71 housing associations has been working closely with the housing charity, Crisis, building up to the Homes for Cathy national conference on Monday, 30 April in London. Crisis is working on its Plan to End Homelessness and this will be previewed at the Homes for Cathy conference.There have been several joint workshops with Crisis and Homes for Cathy housing associations that are feeding into the Crisis plan, and eventually into a Homes for Cathy housing association plan or charter.
“Factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.”
However, the feedback from Crisis staff and case workers is that housing associations are frequently seen by local authorities and housing charities as being part of the problem when it comes to tackling homelessness locally; that housing associations are erecting barriers which sometimes prevent homeless families and homeless people being housed and sustaining a tenancy.
Perhaps rent cuts, benefit cuts, universal credit, housing support cuts, court delays and other factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.
But many housing associations were originally set up to house homeless people or poorly housed people and in response to previous housing crises.
As charities with the resources to house homeless people, we have to be working with the local authorities, who have the statutory responsibilities, and the local housing charities. We must be playing our part.
So what practical steps can housing associations take? Housing associations are already providing homes (temporary and permanent) and support for homeless people and clearly, in the medium and long term, there is the need to build more homes at rents that people can afford. But are there any short-term solutions that housing associations may offer to hard-pressed local authorities which have the Homelessness Reduction Actto implement? Can we purchase homes for shared housing? Can we set up social lettings agencies? Can we provide modular homes on any unused land? And can local authorities put aside some of the money they are spending on temporary accommodation to support such initiatives? Can health or crime budgets be used to provide even temporary support for homeless people if homes can be made available?
“The rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace”
The Homes for Cathy group has argued that housing associations should be collecting and using information on, for instance, their lettings to homeless people and their evictions, to try to improve their practices and to examine whether safeguards and mitigations can be put in place to allow them to house and support more homeless people – perhaps with help from other agencies. As many people have observed, the rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace and a personal disaster for those affected.
The government has made a commitment to halving rough sleeping numbers by 2022 and ending rough sleeping by 2027 and we wait to see what resources will be put behind this commitment.
But housing associations have to step up to the plate. This is about our social purpose. We all must examine what we are doing and do everything we can to increase our contribution.
Housing associations have to be seen as part of the solution to this national crisis not part of the problem.
David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association