The homelessness trap

Originally published on February 25 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

If the government provides Help to Buy for first-time buyers why not Help to Rent for homeless people?

A new campaign from Crisis says it is becoming harder and harder for homeless people to get a place to live because most landlords think it’s too risky to rent to them.

Home: No Less Will Do’ is supported by the leading private landlord associations and calls on ministers to give homeless people looking to rent the same kind of support as they offer first-time buyers and to introduce a Welsh-style homelessness prevention duty.

As things stand, they are caught in what Crisis calls the ‘homelessness trap’: the private rented sector may be their only hope of a home (especially if they are single) but they struggle with upfront costs; and welfare reforms are making landlords less likely to want to rent to them.

The potential consequences – and the timeliness of the campaign – are underlined in new figures published on Thursday showing that rough sleeping has risen by 30% in a year and has doubled since 2010.

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Looking on the bright side

Originally published on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

There was a depressingly common theme at a conference in London on the future of housing organised by Shelter this week.

Speaker after speaker felt the need to apologise for what would be a litany of gloom and doom and attempted to find something, anything, to lighten the mood.

Toby Lloyd of Shelter started with the good news on the Housing and Planning Bill. There is some, believe it or not, in the small steps towards tackling bad private landlords. But even then there’s a worry that measures to help genuine landlords tackle abandonment could turn into a fast track for evictions for more unscrupulous ones.

Then it was time for the real gloom. From Starter Homes to Pay to Stay and fixed-term tenancies to forced council house sales, the bill looks set to accelerate the slow death of social housing. As Toby put it, up to now all forms of affordable housing provision have had two things in common: they remained affordable in perpetuity; and the subsidy was recycled into more housing. Housing Bill-style ‘affordable’ (Starter Homes and whatever Greg Clark says) does neither. What hope there is now rests on what improvements (if any) can be won in the House of Lords.

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The furious commitment of Chris Holmes

Originally posted on December 21 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

When Chris Holmes died this time last year we lost one of our most passionate advocates for better housing and against homelessness

A collection of essays in his memory published today reflects on an extraordinary career that spanned the voluntary sector, local government, housing associations, co-operatives and community activism as well as roles advising central government and on housing commissions. That combination of campaigning, policy, politics and practice is rare enough in any career but the essays also reveal a bigger story (much of it new to me) about what can be achieved with the right mix of principles, purpose and pragmatism. ‘Furious commitment’ is what Jeremy Swain calls this ability to go beyond outrage and get things done.

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Concerned eyebrows

Originally posted on August 26 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Housing protests burst on to the stage at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

One of the best shows I saw on the Fringe was E15, a play devised from verbatim accounts of what’s happened since 29 single mothers were told they would be evicted from the Focus E15 hostel in Newham in October 2013.

For a mainstream audience it shows the extremes of the housing crisis in a borough where severe homelessness and deprivation co-exist with the post-Olympics boom. It’s also the inspirational story of a group of people who in their own words knew nothing about politics and protesting but who refused to be marginalised.

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The sharp end

Originally posted on August 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Wales is setting an example on homelessness prevention but can it escape the UK-driven logic of austerity in housing?

The question is prompted by today’s Homelessness Monitor Wales 2015, the latest in a comprehensive series of assessments from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on progress (or otherwise) in the UK nations. This one arrives just at the point where Wales is using its relatively new legislative powers to take a different path to England on housing policy.

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Under pressure

The latest homelessness figures confirm some disturbing trends over the last five years in why people lose their home and what happens to them once they get help.

The statistics for England published by the DCLG on Wednesday run up to the end of 2014/15 and so allow the record the coalition to be assessed for the first time. The headline measure of households accepted as homeless (unintentionally homeless and in priority need) rose 36 per cent between 2009/10 (the year before the coalition took power) and 2014/15 to 54,000.

But this figure is heavily influenced by other government policies, not just the coalition’s reforms of the system but the last Labour government’s too. For example, the acceptances figure was more than double what it is now in the early 2000s, before prevention and options approaches were widely adopted by local authorities.

As the UK Housing Review briefing pointed out on Monday, combined acceptances and prevention cases (not published yet) are likely to top 300,000 in 2014/15 compared to just over 200,000 in 2009/10. And even these figures take no account of hidden homelessness, whether it’s overcrowding or concealed households or single people and childless couples who do not have priority or rough sleeping.

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Last words

As the election campaign for the next government officially gets underway what did we miss in the dying days of the last one?

The end of last week saw frenzied activity to clear the decks before the dissolution of parliament. Here are three things I picked out:

1) A good day to bury bad news?

That was the accusation from Labour’s Chris Ruane as he raised a point of order with the speaker about why it had taken almost five months to answer a written question he had tabled in early November about how much money was spent on social housing in each of the last 15 years. The speaker said he was ‘taken aback’ by the delay and that ministers must do better.

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