Tackling homelessness post-COVID – is opportunity knocking?
As COVID-19 made its way to England, around 15,000 people were safely but temporarily accommodated across the UK. Following on from a jointly hosted discussion between CIH and The Housing Network with a range councils and partners, CIH head of policy and external affairs, Melanie Rees reflects on the main learning points from the roundtable and what more we can do to end homelessness for good.
Looking back on the challenges we’ve faced over the last few months, one of the most impressive outcomes is the way that councils and their partners have worked together to find everyone sleeping on the streets a safe place to stay. The Government had committed to end rough sleeping via a five-year plan but, in a matter of days, around 15,000 people were safely accommodated across the UK, albeit only temporarily. This is a great example of what can be achieved when political will and resources are matched by local commitment, expertise and action.
Earlier this month CIH and The Housing Network jointly hosted a discussion which brought together some of the councils and partners who had played such a big part in getting ‘everybody in’. With many people accommodated in hotels and placements due to come to an end, there is a pressing need to find longer term solutions so that they don’t return to the streets.
The Government has set up a task force to address this issue led by Dame Louise Casey which presents an opportunity to get people into more stable homes with the right support. Our discussion focused on how we can make the most of this and the barriers that need to be removed to end homelessness and rough sleeping altogether.
The enthusiasm and commitment of those around the table and their desire to innovate to increase the range of options available to people without a settled home where impressive. So, what were the main learning points?
• Councils and their partners were thinking about their ‘exit strategies’ from the outset with a number of people already successfully rehoused as a result, although challenges remain
• Floating support was an important factor in successfully placing people in hotels and other temporary accommodation. This will be just as important if people are going to successfully move on to, and sustain, more settled homes
• Careful procurement is needed for temporary and move-on options to avoid the competition that can drive up prices
• Local political leadership and commitment makes a big difference when trying to develop and resource a range of housing options for people to move on to
• Potential options include new build, acquisitions, modular construction, changing the client group for existing low-demand sheltered housing, private renting and, perhaps more controversially, acquiring and converting offices. Office and retail conversions to housing have recently attracted negative press. But if conversions are done to a high standard and well maintained thereafter, could this be a realistic way to meet need?
• Several councils have rented smaller homes in multiple occupation as an alternative to hotels. This may be a long-term solution for some but for many it buys time while they explore more permanent options
• Government funding is likely to be used flexibly including converting shared ownership homes to rent, refurbishing existing homes, and acquisitions from the private market. Securing investment from pension funds could also open up opportunities
• While the long campaigned for increase in local housing allowance was a welcome move, in high cost areas it is taking single people’s income from benefits above the Benefit Cap of £13,400 a year outside Greater London (£15,410 inside), creating affordability issues
• It’s clear that migrants with no recourse to public funds are facing particular difficulties - CIH has called on government to lift the restrictions on access to benefits and housing for at least 12 months
• Homeless services are anticipating a spike in evictions once the current restrictions are lifted. CIH has developed a package of measures for government to consider including preventing evictions due to COVID-related arrears
What needs to happen to end homelessness and rough sleeping for good? For me, it boils down to four things:
• We have to build at least 90,000 social rented homes every year. Investment here will also deliver a much-needed boost to the post-COVID economy. That’s why, along with the National Housing Federation, the Association of Retained Council Housing, the National Federation of ALMOs, Crisis and over 60 supporting organisations, we’ve launched the Homes at the Heart campaign calling on government to deliver a once in a lifetime level of investment in affordable homes
• People on low incomes need realistic help with their housing and living costs. We’re calling on government to end the bedroom tax, the five-week waiting time for universal credit and the shared accommodation rate for under 35s
• We need to make sure that government delivers its plans to end ‘no fault’ evictions, currently the single biggest reason for people becoming homeless
• We need to fund good quality supported housing and housing-related support services for a range of needs. Not only do those services enable people to live happy, safe and independent lives – they also play a vital part in preventing homelessness and aiding resettlement
The Chancellor’s autumn spending review provides an ideal opportunity to make the case for policies which will make sure that everyone has a decent, secure, affordable place to call home.