In the third in our series of articles about the role of Homes for Cathy members in delivering the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we spoke to Broadland Housing’s Executive Development Director Andrew Savage and Executive Director of Housing Catherine Little, to find out how they’re rising to the challenge to provide interim accommodation for homeless people in Norfolk.
What’s the homelessness picture in your local area?
Broadland provides more than 5,000 homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk, so we cover both urban and very rural areas. As a city and major town in Norfolk, Norwich and King’s Lynn have always been very much at the sharp end of homelessness, with multiple pressing issues such as a large number of migrant homeless with no recourse to public funds. However, since the pandemic hit, registered providers have realised that there is a homelessness issue right across the area now, not just in the larger settlements. For example, we’ve seen increasing numbers of people rough sleeping in places like Great Yarmouth and towns in North Norfolk that aren’t normally associated with homelessness, such as Fakenham and North Walsham. Consequently, there’s been a lot of pressure on local authorities to accommodate people at short notice, with no additional funds to do so.
Tell us about the projects you are undertaking with NSAP funding…
We asked ourselves the question ‘where do we have critical mass?’ and the answer is Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. In Great Yarmouth, the local authority wanted to own their properties, as they are a stock holding authority. So Broadland are providing development agency services to help the three new build developments the council are undertaking. These when completed will provide circa 30, 50sqm one bedroomed self-contained apartments using modular construction.
In Norwich, we’re working with Norwich City Council to deliver three projects. We’re buying 10 street flats to provide ex-offenders with a stable home and help them reintegrate into the community. This is using the city’s Right to Buy monies and Broadland capital. We’re also purchasing an additional 10 flats, using Next Steps funding, on the open market which will be dedicated to Housing First tenants. Finally, we’re building six one-bedroom modular flats in a new development intended for move-on accommodation.
In King’s Lynn, we have two projects underway using Next Steps funding in collaboration with the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. Again, we’re buying six flats on the open market as part of a Housing First project, and leasing ten one bedroom flats for move on.
Did your NSAP bid include any revenue funding?
Yes, we have revenue funding to support our Housing First projects and also to support people in move-on accommodation. It’s important that people who have experienced homelessness aren’t just given a home and expected to fend for themselves. For the Housing First projects, we’ve commissioned support from specialist providers, who can provide the right expertise in this area.
What have been the key challenges around delivering on the Next Steps programme?
The main challenge has been that we already had our annual development programme in place, so we’re adding to a programme in a way that wasn’t planned. It had to be a knee-jerk response because of the funding becoming available – it’s forced us to be reactive which isn’t always ideal in delivering new supply. Despite this, we haven’t wanted to lower our ambitions on quality. For example, we’ve done many modern methods of construction (MMC) projects in the past, so it’s not necessarily a new approach, but we’re using it for the right solution. In terms of meeting the March deadline, there have been a few delays, particularly with the modular accommodation and the housing market supply ebbing and flowing through the various lockdowns however MHCLG and Housing England have been sensible where they can see we’re well advanced with plans.
MHCLG have been brilliant about what they want to achieve but, I agree, it’s not been particularly strategic. I think we should be looking at a system change instead; unfortunately it feels like we’re a million miles away from that. The idea of a ‘national asset’ is great, but moving people around is not true Housing First – it doesn’t allow people to put down roots.
What learnings have you taken from the process?
I think in the future, it would be beneficial for the co-ordination to come from either Housing England or MHCLG, rather than both. Looking ahead I personally feel, funding for years two and three needs to come out at the same time, so that we can plan accordingly. It would be much better to deliver extra supply rather than partly buying from the existing market stock. However, there’s always going to be a learning curve and ultimately this was a need in the sector that hadn’t been dealt with. We now have an opportunity to help deliver what we can in the short term and hopefully people will see the merits in medium term programmes to deliver the ambition of long term national assets.
We’ve been able to build on existing relationships which has been great; fortunately there was already a good deal of trust between Broadland and our local authorities, which made us a natural partner. We’ve worked more closely with other housing associations to make sure we’re co-ordinating, not competing in this area. The question now is ‘how do we continue to build on these positive relationships?’ From our point of view, it’s vital that we keep an open conversation going with both commissioners and strategic housing providers.
It’s also vital not to underestimate the importance of the third sector, which has provided strong support across the whole of the county during the crisis. We believe that if another provider can do something better, they should be the one doing it – no one agency needs to try to do everything. The partnership approach has definitely broken down some of the barriers that may have existed in the past, which is wonderful.
What positives have you taken from the process?
We’re lucky to be working in an organisation with the leadership of a CEO (Michael Newey) who is passionate about the need to end homelessness and a Board who unanimously support what we’re trying to do. Being a member of Homes for Cathy has certainly been instrumental in making that happen.
Being part of Homes for Cathy has also provided something for our development team to ‘sell’ to local authorities, allowing us to go in and talk to them about the need for more housing rather than temporary accommodation. We’re able to say to local authorities ‘we’re here to support you’ and local councillors know that Broadland is fully committed. Essentially it’s helped us cut through and sell our capability as a trusted partner to local authorities in the challenge to end homelessness.
One of the Homes for Cathy group’s founding members, Broadland Housing Association was formed in 1963 and built its first scheme, at Shipfield in Norwich, in 1967. Today it provides more than 5,000 quality homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk.