Inevitably, for homelessness charities a constant focus is often on helping people into, or at least towards, having their own settled housing. We talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how shelter is essential for everyone. Because it is. For many reasons, it’s vital. Yet as a country we have a confused relationship with housing, seeing it as something that everyone must have, at the same time as being a resource to be controlled, an investment. House prices and rents are high in the UK, a problem exacerbated by lack of supply, which can be a boon for property owners but a curse for others.
We can look at the many reasons why supply is limited and list some obvious ones: growing population; too little building and development; too much demand in certain geographical areas; an aging population with many homes arguably under-occupied. There are many other factors, too.
But what matters is the result: too little affordable accommodation. Obviously, welfare benefits not properly covering the costs of private rent in many cases is a huge issue. Alongside that, the social housing sector has changed over time, with many housing associations more clearly balancing social purpose against financial benefit and community needs in ways that mean many homeless people find it harder to secure their own social housing properties. That may be an unintended result but it is nevertheless one.
So Britain undoubtedly needs more affordable accommodation, both social and privately rented, and landlords willing to house people with fewer resources: those on limited incomes, without guarantors – people who actually most need that stability.
That’s why we at Path are, in our modest way, are starting to provide tenancies. We have run temporary accommodation for several years, something we value but which is a stepping stone for our residents as we try to help them move into their own longer term home. What that means for many is moving from one share housed in the community, run by us and with regular support, to another where – when ready - they live more independently.
For us, it’s positive – the ‘outcome’ we hope to help people achieve - and we are focussed on maintaining that. But there is still an under-supply of good quality, affordable accommodation. So we are increasing what we provide, ourselves. Numbers are small but our plan is to have 30 rooms in Plymouth by the end of this year that we run as tenancies; and 50 by the end of 2022. Ultimately, our view is that if others aren’t always prioritising people who are homeless for housing, then it’s for us and other homelessness charities to. We don’t have the resources that housing associations can muster but sitting on our hands is no longer an option; and we welcome the opportunity to contribute in this way.
Of course, an even bigger gap is one bedroom (self-contained) accommodation: it is far too scarce. But that’s another challenge. Still, one we are interested in contributing to addressing, if and when we can. First we’re providing shared houses.