Housing First and the Private Rented Sector
By Alex Osmond, Housing First and Lived Experience Manager, and Tim Thomas, Policy Officer - NRLA Wales.
The Housing First Network in Wales has been making the case for widespread and effective delivery of Housing First for several years now. Members of the Network will not be surprised to find our continued emphasis from decades of international evidence backing up the model; nor is it a secret that several Housing First and Housing First for Youth projects are transforming lives across the country.
Support continues to grow for this model, with several political parties committing to investment in Housing First in their election manifestos. Following the huge response to homelessness during COVID, the focus is now on expanding delivery of Housing First. A critical factor will be securing enough housing, and this will require input from both the social housing and private rented sector.
Most Housing First projects in Wales currently work with social landlords, but we know the Private Rented Sector (PRS) has the potential to play an important role. As a result, we – Cymorth Cymru and the National Residential Landlords Association – have written this joint blog . While the homelessness sector is familiar with Housing First, it stands to reason that many others will not have such a deep understanding. To help landlords working in the PRS get a general sense of the model, we are delighted to announce the publication of two new documents:
- Housing First: A guide for PRS landlords
- Leasing Schemes: A model to facilitate PRS involvement with Housing First
It is true that the majority of the Housing First projects in Wales work with social landlords and housing associations, as opposed to the PRS in their area. This isn’t true across the board, though: several projects exist that do some work with PRS landlords, and one project works almost exclusively with the PRS in the area: The Wallich in Anglesey.
Landlords who have worked with The Wallich for several years feel confident enough in the arrangement to not advertise any of their empty properties, but allow them to be used for Housing First clients. Yes, these relationships have taken time to build and yes, many lessons have been learned – but this project illustrates that the PRS and Housing First are not mutually exclusive concepts.
In fact, there is a clear business case for PRS landlords to get involved with Housing First – especially now. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on people working in a range of fields with tenants living in the PRS being hit hard. Fewer people are working, and people are more wary of moving – meaning there are PRS properties standing empty. Likewise, the problem of homelessness has not gone away, and Housing First projects will always benefit from a larger pool of housing stock to draw from.
Whether we are working under lockdown restrictions or not, the intensive support that is wrapped around a Housing First client will work to pre-empt issues they might have with their tenancy. The tenant is likely to be claiming benefits, which can be paid directly to the landlord – this must, as per the Housing First model, be the client’s choice. That said, Housing First support workers often work with clients to maximise their benefits, meaning that clients usually have a fairly reliable income, which should be reassuring to PRS landlords.
One of the best ways for landlords to get involved with Housing First is via a leasing scheme, which provides certainty and security for landlords and expertise in providing housing to people leaving homelessness. The Welsh Government has been piloting a leasing scheme in several areas and we hope that this will expand across Wales in the coming months. Individual landlords could also approach their local authority, a housing association nearby, or indeed a Housing First project, to explore whether similar, local arrangements are available in their area.
Now, more than ever, we know the importance of having a safe and secure home – and the case studies at the end of the Housing First guide show the positive impact that PRS landlords can have in the provision of Housing First. We are hoping that these two documents make the case for PRS landlords, particularly those interested in helping people experiencing homelessness to get involved.
Given that Wales has just elected a new Senedd full of Members who support Housing First, we have an opportunity now to push even harder for increased delivery of this model, as well as an expansion of the Welsh Government’s leasing scheme, which can help people experiencing homelessness, Housing First projects, and PRS landlords alike.