Solutions Closer to Home
Our CEO, Mark Grant, responds to Theresa May’s recent speech on tackling the Housing Crisis.
The headline news for the week is that the government is going to tackle the Housing Crisis. Theresa May’s speech on Monday gave a welcome acknowledgement that the lack of affordable housing creates homelessness and tackling the crisis is more than just about getting people onto the property ladder.
For those of us who have seen many government housing strategies over the years, there is often a disconnect between the lack of affordable housing and homelessness strategies. The focus on homelessness always seems to be about managing homelessness through the provision of more hostels and other temporary housing schemes. The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that many homeless people face the additional barriers of poor mental health and drug dependency and of course, these need to be overcome. However, these problems won’t be tackled if people are still on the street or moving from hostel to hostel. Only by providing people with a home first will the cycle of homelessness be broken.
However, the reality for many of the people Action Homeless sees is that they simply cannot find anywhere affordable to live in their own city. Leicester has some of the highest rents in the country and we are seeing the greatest house price rises of any city in England. Higher house prices invariably mean that rents are in turn pushed up. The cheapest room, in a shared house in the city, costs over £50 a week; but most landlords refuse people on benefits. All require upfront deposits and rent for at least 3 weeks in addition to agent fees of £200 or more. Meaning you will have to have over £800 upfront to be able to find yourself a home.
Our clients have told us that they cannot overcome the barriers they face in their lives while they still have to worry about where they sleep each night or how long they will be allowed to stay in their temporary accommodation. If we are to stop managing the issues of homelessness and tackle the underlying factors and causes, we must first give people the security of a safe, comfortable home which they can afford.
Although everyone acknowledges that we need to create more new homes, this will take a time and there is much more we can do immediately to make the best use of the housing we already have. There are over 5,000 officially registered empty properties in Leicester and we know there are many more which are undeclared.
Over the past 5 years Action Homeless has sought out empty houses and has bought 23 such properties back into use, providing 72 individuals with their own home. On average it costs us £30,000 to renovate a 3 bed house and takes 6 weeks to make them fit to live in again. This compares to a cost of over £150,000 to find land and to build a new unit.
We know that there are a lot more houses out there that can be utilised, both in the private and public sector. We all need to take on the responsibility for identifying empty properties. If you want to find out how you can help us with our Housing First initiative please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0116 2211851.
Mark Grant has worked in the homeless sector for over 25 years and joined Action Homeless as CEO in September 2013. Mark was involved from the start of the Rough Sleepers crisis in London in the early 1990’s. He has worked for various housing organisations and was Deputy CEO of Broadway (now St Mungo’s) for 10 years, where he instigated the Real Lettings initiative, a social lettings agency to help secure homes for vulnerably housed and homeless people in the private sector.