Homes for Cathy’s charity members are playing a vital part in delivering safe, secure and affordable properties for people experiencing homelessness, thanks to successful bids for Next Steps Accommodation funding. Homes for Cathy spoke to HARP Southend’s Director of Property Development, Nicky Houston, about the charity’s efforts to help homeless people in the town and how their Next Steps capital award will be used.
Tell us about HARP Southend and the work you do….
HARP is the leading Southend charity helping local people overcome homelessness. We have 226 beds, all in Southend, of which we own 50 per cent, with the other 50 per cent owned by private landlords. They’re all single occupancy, catering for the single homeless cohort that typically is not accepted as statutory homeless. Our aspiration is to increase the proportion of beds we own to 60 per cent, which is where I come in; a big part of my role is sourcing funding in order to develop our property portfolio.
What’s the local homelessness picture in Southend?
Southend is a popular seaside resort, with many people employed by the tourist industry in low paid, casual work. It’s also a commuter town with direct links into London’s Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street stations, which means property prices are very high compared to the average wage. With limited social housing, a large private rented sector and unstable employment, many of our cohort slip through the cracks. HARP Southend focuses on supporting three key groups – young people, women and those with complex needs – providing emergency housing and long-term solutions that enable people to rebuild their lives and live independently in the community.
How did your NSAP bid come about and what does it entail?
Our focus is very much on the local community and we work closely with Southend Borough Council, who encouraged us to come forward with recommendations as part of their overall bid. This was an interesting aspect, in that the council had faith that we could deliver on our proposals. In fact, we put in two bids, as we knew that the funding pot would be massively oversubscribed, and we felt it would increase our chance of getting at least one bid approved. Although one of the bids – for a property refurbishment and remodelling – was turned down, fortunately our bid to purchase the property adjacent to two we already own was approved. The £170k capital grant we have been awarded will enhance our existing plans to create 42 new units of single homeless accommodation, with the advantage that this will be part of an existing, well-supported project with an infrastructure and staffing already in place. Essentially, we’ll be providing a lot more for the money.
Are there any challenges around delivering on your proposal, especially given the 31 March 2021 completion deadline?
We put in the bid on the basis that we would be able to acquire the three flats within the property. Luckily, as the bid formed part of a major project that was already secured, we’d had conversations with the flat owners over whether they would sell, although there we no guarantees until we knew we were getting the funding – essentially, you have to start committing on spec.
There was a question mark over one flat in particular and whether we could guarantee vacant possession by the end of March with all the lockdown restrictions, which was quite worrying. Miraculously, all three owners have agreed to sell and we’re now going through the purchasing process. However we’re having to turn everything round on a hairpin, especially given that we didn’t find out about the award until the end of October. Fortunately, we’re not looking at major refurbishments, and we’re hoping to complete on two properties by the beginning of February and the third by the end of February.
Another challenge has come from the pandemic itself; we’ve been hit much more heavily than the first lockdown, with staff sickness meaning that we’ve had to postpone move-ins temporarily. However, we’re hoping we’ll be able to start moving people again from the beginning of March.
What difference will the project make to the lives of people experiencing homelessness in Southend?
In terms of accommodation, we generally tend to look at bedsits, so we’re pretty confident and excited about being able to offer flats instead – they’re at such a premium but are the perfect solution for people for whom shared accommodation isn’t suitable. We’ll be working with each individual to encourage them to go through our tenancy ready development programme incorporating life skills, budgeting and tenancy skills – so eventually they’ll be able to move out and move on to independent living following their time with us.
What positives have you taken from the bid process?
We always had a good relationship with Southend Borough Council’s development team and this process has cemented that relationship while at the same time helping us to develop better relationships with other parts of the local authority.
Our relationship with Homes England was also instrumental; they were very supportive when we had queries over whether we could deliver and instilled confidence in us that we could do it.
Ultimately, it’s brilliant to be an integral part of the overall homelessness prevention programme for the area and to know that, as an organisation, we are able to offer rounded support for individuals while delivering value for money.