Rent Support

Bad housing makes us sick – and what we can do about it

Bad housing makes us sick – and what we can do about it

 

We attended a recent conference in London exploring how housing effects our health, and how we can come together to fix the broken system. Our practitioner Sandra Axell reports back.

‘Bad housing makes us sick’ was a housing conference put together by Homes for All, Doctors Unite and Unite Housing Workers in London last Saturday. More than 100 people, including housing campaigners, doctors and health workers, trade union members and tenant representatives came together to share ideas and inspire new action plans. The brilliant guest speakers gave us all food for thought and below we share a summary of the topics that were discussed.

How the financialisation of housing is a global crisis

Raquel Rolnik, professor of urban planning at University of Sao Paulo, suggests that housing has moved on from being a valued

Raquel Rolnik

as a human right to being viewed as a commodity that is financially motivated. In the 1980’s both Thatcher in the UK and Regan in the US introduced schemes to sell off houses in public ownership; in the UK the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme gave council tenants an opportunity to buy their home, but as more and more housing has gone into private hands new social housing has not been built, leading to many countries having a rental market that has become a ‘finance playground’.

Watch Raquel Rolnik’s speech here.

Journalist Dawn Foster, who writes for the Guardian newspaper among others, highlighted that the Conservative Government’s recent ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, which was also put in place to encourage more home ownership, has been hijacked by large house building companies have used government subsidies to pay out big bonuses rather than lowering the house prices. Research show that the market prices was pushed up with as much as the government discount paid out, meaning that essentially, rather than make house prices more affordable, the cost has remained the same for the buyer and the profit has gone to the house builders.

In addition, the gap between rent and wages are growing. According to Shelter, between 2011 and 2017 the average rent increased by 16% nationally while wages only increased by 10%. But there are exceptions where the divide is much larger. In Barking and Dagenham, the wages in the same period only went up by 2%, but rents increased by 40%. The new benefits cap of £20,000 a year means that 97% of 2-bedroom properties on the privately rented market are unaffordable.

Dawn Foster

The panelists agreed that it is time to begin viewing housing as a human right again, and that to provide stable and secure housing for families, we should be focused on building more social housing and introducing rent controls. This is not only the ethical approach, but an affordable one: When the government invests in building social housing for everyone, in about 5-10 years the dwelling has paid for itself and the tenants rent payments go back into the accounts of local authorities, instead of to private landlords. Meanwhile, rent controls and longer tenancies within the private sector offers security to both landlords and renters, and prevents bigger landlords using the market as an investment and pushing up prices. This supports smaller landlords who have homes to rent and need the security of long term rent payments and tenancies.

Health in housing

Dr Jackie Applebee from Doctors Unite spoke about how bad housing is affecting health. Studies have suggested that homelessness can reduce life expectancy by 30 years and poor accommodation and living in poverty has a severe impact on life expectancy as well. People in temporary housing and social housing are often living in overcrowded conditions due to shortage of suitable properties. The lack of social housing or affordable housing means that people have to move more often, sometimes several times a year. Every time a household is relocated, they lose contact with their community and the support network that is available to them. Therefore, moving from a property affects social relationships and has a negative impact on mental health.

Terminus in Harlow is one example of how overcrowding affects mental and physical health. The 14 stories 1960’s office block has been turned into housing without needing planning permission. The very small rooms are filled with families and single residents from councils in and around London and they are often may miles away from places and people that they know. Crime has risen in the area with around 40% since the tower block was converted and families are scared to let their children out of the room. Therefore, there is no place for the children to play or do homework, and the adults have got no privacy. Jackie, who works as a GP in Whitechapel, has seen the impact that overcrowding has on health. She says that sharing a small space is likely to lead to infections as conditions spread easily, leaving people are more prone to illnesses.

Next, Hannah Slater from Generation Rent spoke about how the insecurity of the private rented market is another factor that can affect mental health. The private rented market is growing due to a shortage of council houses, along with a steep rise in houses prices that are forcing more people to rent. The Royal London suggests that half the children born in the UK are starting their lives in rented accommodation. Most tenancy contracts are ‘Assorted Shorthold Leases’ with only a 6 month agreement. And under Section 21 rules, the landlords can evict the tenant after the agreement has ended without providing a reason. This leads to families having to relocate, losing the community that they have created, as well as their relationship with healthcare professionals and services around them. Biomarkers used in a study have indicated that people living in rented accommodation have higher level of stress chemicals in their blood compared to home owners.

Figures show that a third of private rented properties fail basic health and safety checks due to problems with, for example, damp and mould. But Section 21 means that tenants do not have any security, and they avoid making any complaints about the property as they face being evicted if they do.

Due to the increasing number of private renters, political parties have started to take notice of housing campaigns as private renters now represent a large part of their constituency. The Mayor of London has promised to abolish Section 21, and the Labour Party has added it to their manifesto after pressure from campaigners. Another suggestion to increase the security for private renters is to have a national register of landlords and for Councils to have more control of licensing schemes that they apply for.

Coming together for action

The conference agreed on a few points of action that the difference groups and movements could work towards together. They included things like:

  • Supporting and building the 15th June ‘Grenfell – Never Again’ protest march in
    central London.
  • Ensuring housing rights are enacted and reinforced, backed by a strengthened independent tenant organisation.
  • Calling for an enforceable right to repairs for all tenants, linked to a
    regular inspection regime.
  • Advocating for grant funding for existing and new council housing.
  • Campaigning around connected issues such as Universal Credit, bringing empty properties into use, reducing temporary accommodation, the sale of public land and investment in the NHS.
  • Backing the Charter for Housing Action in 2019 and extend the alliance for action.
Posted by kineara in Community, Housing, Latest
Reflections on Reimagining Rent: 1 year on

Reflections on Reimagining Rent: 1 year on

One year on from starting the Reimagining Rent programme, Kineara’s director Maria Morgan talks about our progress since leaving their first cohort of participants, and how the programme has helped us develop our Rent Support Programme (RSP+), a new and upcoming venture aiming to reduce evictions for vulnerable tenants in the private rented sector using holistic support.

How did you find the Reimagining Rent programme?

The Young Foundation (YF) found me actually, which is amazing! Last year, Kineara held a workshop with Azuko and Poplar Harca, where we invited professionals and practitioners across the housing sector to discuss how we could improve the journey through temporary housing. It was during the workshop that I met Radhika Bynon from YF and she told me about Reimagining Rent and encouraged me to apply. I asked when the deadline was and she said, “today!” So I went home and started the application straightaway.

It’s the best thing we did because prior to that we were delivering the programme on a much smaller scale, and only really working with organisations who already knew about us, stayed with us and continued to renew their partnerships with us. It was a blessing that we made it onto the programme at such short notice, and it was exactly what we needed to elevate our work. The most exciting thing about Reimagining Rent is the common desire to make the private rented sector work better for vulnerable people, and that’s certainly what we’re all about at Kineara.

How have you been reimagining Kineara and the Rent Support Programme (RSP)?

The inspiration for our programmes comes from the FIP (Family Intervention Project) model: a dedicated keyworker approach with intensive, purposeful intervention. I took the ethos of the FIP model as the foundation to write Kineara’s first programme, the RSP, viewing rent arrears as a trigger issue and shortening the intervention. But we wrote RSP in 2011, before the housing crisis had become so entrenched and before the worst of the welfare reforms. So I had to ask myself: how can RSP continue to make a difference in the changing context of housing?

At the same time, I’d been thinking about how to scale up Kineara’s work and expand our reach but also take the programme into the private sector for vulnerable tenants. It took time for the idea to fully form and it finally came when I was sitting in a Reimagining Rent session listening to a speaker, I think it was Susan Aktemel actually. I was listening to her and then OMG! The penny dropped.

We’re now beginning to have conversations with Local Authorities about RSP+ and I don’t yet know the outcome of this work, but we’re motoring ahead and wishing for the best. I hope that RSP+ can be duplicated across councils. I’d like our original RSP to be resurrected within housing providers too, and working on scaling up all of Kineara’s work, which was one of the drivers for me joining Reimagining Rent.

As an organisation, we are reshuffling the way we do things to make it more efficient. I have an amazing team full of great people. We are all in it together and Kineara is not a one man band. I’ve been so blessed to have such amazing people to go join me on this journey.

It’s been exciting to see the development of the Rent Support Programme Plus (RSP+) pilot in the last few months. Can you explain more about the new model we are piloting?

First of all, it is about working with Local Authorities to connect, support and engage both landlords and private tenants in their boroughs. Many councils have now introduced Landlord Licensing Schemes and accreditation schemes to help improve standards, and most do offer some form of advice line for private tenant in insecure tenancies or who are threatened with homelessness.

Of course, our RSP is not a silver bullet for all housing issues. But I asked myself, how can we build on the kind of support we’ve delivered with our social housing tenants in the past and extend it to the most vulnerable tenants in the PRS? As far as I could see, there were no other services providing this offer. So the first part of this pilot is to offer RSP to council’s and work with them to strengthen their relationship with private landlords, offering alternative options to issuing Section 21’s, preventing additional costs to the council in the form of re-housing, temporary accommodation and the rest, as well as, of course, preventing homelessness for households.

If you live in a council property, there is a far greater obligation to work things out with the tenant when problems arise such as rent arrears. It made me reflect on why a private landlord want to pay for a service like RSP when they can issue a Section 21 and have a brand-new paying tenant come into their property. This is why our delivery model is much stronger working with Local Authorities and they can also save a lot of money by participating. The difference between RSP and RSP+ is that the original programme is delivered for social housing tenants where the housing association pays for the intervention, whereas in RSP+ the Council invests in the programme, offering landlords a route away from eviction via our service and enabling intensive support to be delivered to private sector tenants whose vulnerability often goes under Local Authorities’ radar until a households’ needs become urgent.

Finally, do you have any advice for this year’s cohort?

My advice to them is be open.

Sometimes we can defend what we know and we miss out on learning something new – it’s a trap I have fallen into. Just let go and be open to allow your mind to think, take in new ideas and think creatively. And use the room, use the space, use the people around you. If you immerse yourself in that experience you will get so much more from it. It was the best thing that we’ve done as Kineara. It has really elevated our thinking. And I would say to everybody, enjoy it and make the most of it!

The group are very varied which is amazing. They seem to be coming from different perspectives but have the same goal, which is working to make the private rented sector better for vulnerable people, including those on low incomes. It’s also a useful opportunity to reflect on where society is at. There are so many changes in the UK, and it’s important that we have a strong foundation and identity about what we are doing, but have the flexibility to meet changing needs.

I would like to also say thanks to The Young Foundation for delivering such an impactful programme. Looking at the cohort that I was part of as well as the new cohort of participants, the ideas people are developing are pretty incredible and being introduced to investors who are willing and keen to support projects with a social purpose is awesome.

All the best to the new cohorts!

You can read the blog in full on the Young Foundation’s website.

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Kineara begins a new integrated rent and employment support programme

We are really excited to have begun a new programme this summer, with an ambitious aim to support 80 people into employment over the next two years.

The new Intensive Employment Support Programme has been developed alongside Tower Hamlets Family Intervention Project across the borough, and combines Kineara’s flagship Rent Support Programme to create a unique model designed that integrates rent support and employment support into one.

We have already begun working with several residents of Poplar Harca Housing Association, with other housing associations already expressing interest running the service alongside their existing employment support work.

Our Rent Support Programme has already been successful in preventing evictions for families whose rent arrears had led them to the brink of eviction proceedings, with 97% of residents who completed the programme remaining in their homes after the intensive 10 week intervention.

Many of those families were among the thousands in Tower Hamlets who have faced unemployment and the precariousness it causes. These challenges have also recently been intensified by the benefit cap reductions and extended welfare reform. We have been able to secure training or employment for nearly half of the residents we’ve worked with, which has had a huge impact whether they are able to keep a secure tenancy.

We’re excited to bring our expertise to a context we know well. We’ll be able to connect residents with all kinds of useful services already available in the borough but that some people face barriers engaging with, like job broker Skills Match, Workforce Development, Bromley by Bow, as well as employment bodies linked to the Family Intervention Service and the local community.

As always, a dedicated support worker will work intensively with jobseekers using the same holistic approach that guides all our work, making sure that their overall wellbeing is taken into account. This might mean making sure therapeutic support is available, or skills training, or access to proper healthcare, so that people are able to secure work that is not only stable but also suited to them and their needs.

This project contributes to a new borough wide strategy to tackle unemployment, which includes training and support for local people to find job opportunities in the borough – as well as supporting businesses to create quality and well paid jobs locally – as one of its top employment priorities for 2016-17. This is important for another of its priorities, which is to ensure local low-income residents can access decent housing in the borough, which is becoming increasingly expensive and threatens to price out local residents.

Posted by admin in Employment, Latest