While homelessness can happen to anyone, it’s an issue that affects men and women differently; women experiencing homelessness are often ‘hidden homeless’ and most have been subjected to violence and abuse. Homes for Cathy recently caught up with Jess Page, Director of Housing at group member Women’s Pioneer Housing, to find out more about the drivers behind women’s homelessness and why there is a need for a housing association that champions and understands women.
Where does Women’s Pioneer Housing operate?
Women’s Pioneer Housing has been providing affordable homes to single women in some of the most expensive parts of West London for over 100 years. We currently own just over 1,000 homes, mostly one bedroom and studio flats.
Why is there still a need for women’s only housing?
In many parts of the country housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, most people tend to rent or own their homes as couples, for single people there is an increased pressure on affordability. ONS has found people living alone spend 9% more of their disposable income than two adult households on bills.
The affordability crisis is particularly serious for single women.
A recent report by the Women’s Budget Group showed that women needed 12 times their salary to buy a home, while men needed eight. The report also showed that housing as a ratio to earnings is unaffordable for single women in every region of the country, while single men can afford to rent in every region apart from London.
Ultimately the gender pay gap has a knock-on effect into a gender housing affordability gap.
What issues do women face that can make them more vulnerable to homelessness?
While it is often single men who are sleeping rough, households with single adult women are over-represented in less desirable housing situations, in statutory homelessness and in temporary accommodation. In particular, the interplay between domestic abuse and financial dependence also has a specific impact on women and their housing options. Further, women are likely to experience sexual harassment from their private landlords; a recent study by Generation Rent and Mumsnet found that one in twenty women they surveyed said they had been offered either free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual acts.
At Women’s Pioneer we specialise in single women’s accommodation, which means almost all of our properties are studio or one-bedroom homes. We offer lifelong, assured tenancies to single women who come to us through different routes. We have a 50% nomination agreement with most local authorities we operate in; having control of the allocation of half of our empty properties (known as voids) means we have the opportunity to provide affordable housing to a broad range of women.
Women’s Pioneer Housing provides affordable homes to single women in some of the most expensive parts of West London
How do you work collaboratively with LAs and other agencies to support women experiencing homelessness in the areas in which you operate?
We operate a public waiting list for single women who earn less than £40,000 a year, have minimal or no savings and are not eligible for housing through the local authority – i.e. they don’t meet the ‘priority need’ category. Through our waiting list we have house low paid women in their 60s who have always lived in shared homes, women who work locally and otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in the area and keep their job and others who have faced pretty horrific private renting circumstances. We hear from women who have lodged with their landlord only to find them naked in their private room at night or have suffered physical abuse at the hands of their landlord.
We also work with referral agency partners to house women who wouldn’t usually be eligible for local authority housing support or who need an urgent move. For example, we work with IKWRO (Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation) who do exceptional work moving women out of homes where they face ‘honour based’ violence.
Through these partnerships we also work with Housing First projects. We find having a range of partners, nominations and the waiting list gives us a balanced and resilient community of women who support each other. Our partners for Housing First – Standing Together and Crisis – have an excellent track record of providing support and while sometimes these tenancies can face challenges, we work well together to do all we can to find innovative solutions to keep women in their homes.
We are always looking out for other partners to work with, and our staff are used to signposting women they meet who are homeless to our waiting list or our partners to help them access housing, whether it’s on their way to work or when out and about at the weekend.
What support services do you provide to help existing tenants at risk of homelessness to sustain their tenancies? Are there any issues around tenancy sustainment that disproportionately affect women and how is the support you provide tailored to take this into account?
In terms of tenancy sustainment, we are a small organisation with limited resources, but in 2018 we created a Financial Inclusion Officer role which was been incredibly successful. The role is wide ranging and has supported residents to clear down energy bills, access grants, furniture, claim benefits and escape poverty.
We also operate a Welfare Fund like many organisations much larger than ours. We have set up a partnership to be able to provide immediate vouchers in times of crisis for fuel and food. And of course, we have partnerships with local food banks, employment support organisations, mental health charities and other support services.
We are fortunate that as a single women’s organisation very few of our tenants face domestic abuse, though a significant proportion have experienced this in the past. When we think of PTSD we often think of army veterans but PTSD is prevalent amongst women who have experienced sexual assault and domestic abuse. While our homes are not women only spaces (we have sons, boyfriends and husbands) the vast majority of our homes are lived in by women and tenants tell us time and time again this creates a community of feeling safe and supported. We also do not provide joint tenancies; even when a tenant marries a man, the tenancy will always be a sole tenancy in the woman’s name. This future proofs women against abuse and having to lose their home or being saddled with debt as a result of leaving an abusive relationship.