Is anyone in?

Decent long-term housing has been identified as one of the biggest deter­min­ants of recovery, so how can we address a critical lack of provision? DDN reports from day one of the 2014 Recovery Festival

Housing and employment are at the core of recovery, said Marcus Roberts, chief executive of DrugScope, referring to the charity’s State of the sector report. But there were significant challenges. It was not just about the availability of housing, but also the quality. There were significant gaps in housing and housing support, with a distinct lack of suitable accommodation for people still using drugs.

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 16.58.52Localism had given local authorities more discretion, so it was important for the substance misuse sector to make its case, said Roberts. ‘We need to respond to the new challenges with resilience,’ he said. While the squeeze on local funding was painful, it should also make us ‘think more creatively, with energy and passion’.

There was a lot going on that we could learn from, he said, including the Chartered Institute of Housing’s compendium of good practice and St Mungo’s Broadway’s (SMB) report on the needs of homeless women.

But we needed to fight to maintain a skill base and the ‘multiplicity of people’s needs should be a starting point to rally around’. It was a ‘critical time of challenge, but also of opportunity,’ he said.

Bill Randall, chair of Brighton and Hove City Council’s housing committee, shared his experiences of a densely populated city that had ‘an enormous problem with space for housing’, where local landlords were increasingly reluctant to take people on housing benefit.  The city had 2,000 heroin and cocaine users and although drug-related deaths were now falling, it had had the unenviable title of being ‘the drugs death capital of Britain’ for some time.

‘A real spirit of partnership’ had been key to changing the city’s approach to drug and alcohol problems, pulling together housing providers, public services, the voluntary sector, faith groups and other organisations. Pooling budgets to make the most of diminishing resources was a constant challenge, but ‘returning public health to local government has been critical to changing what we’re doing,’ said Randall.

With much of Brighton’s housing allocated to market rent, shared ownership or sale, imaginative solutions had been needed to help the city’s most vulnerable. One such example was Brighton Housing Trust (BHT)’s scheme of container homes, shipped from Holland, which were of a much higher standard than some of the existing private rented sector.

‘The idea is that you have a pathway from the street into supported housing and then into independent housing,’ said Randall. ‘What you can’t do is put people in mainstream housing and leave them there, which has happened in the past with disastrous effects,’ he added. ‘As someone said at a recent tenants’ meeting, if you put a vulnerable tenant in a block of flats and don’t support them, you make every other tenant vulnerable.’

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 16.59.05The value of partnerships was underlined by Ron Dougan, chief executive of Trent and Dove Housing, who pointed out that ‘the media love nothing better than to give bad news stories about housing associations and their tenants’, highlighting anti-social behaviour stories as front page news. He admitted that he had himself ‘not been hugely keen to welcome the people that had come through this particular route into our homes.’

His attitude had been changed through a ‘proper partnership’ with the BAC O’Connor, which involved intensive pre-tenancy work.

‘We understand the person and what their needs are,’ he said. ‘We give them just the right amount of support to sustain their tenancy and support them into the community.’ This support extended beyond housing to mobility, mental health, addiction – ‘the whole gamut of problems’. And progress had been encouraging: ‘people we house through BAC have a far greater rate of successful tenancies,’ he said, which made a strong case for housing authorities homing people who had come through the recovery route.

People needed three basic things, he said: a decent home in the right area, continued support including a network of family and friends, and something decent and permanent to do.

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 13.16.22Susan Fallis, director of Real Lettings, shared an innovative scheme from St Mungo’s Broadway, which helped homeless people to move into the private rented sector while reducing the risks for landlords. It was a simple model, with SMB leasing the property for three to five years, maintaining it, and effectively becoming the tenant.

The short tenancies were ‘no hassle to landlords as they know they’ll get the rent’ and a sustainable business model for SMB. Landlords were charged 17.5 per cent of the local housing allowance as a management charge, which paid for the cost of managing and maintaining the property. 

There was a tight arrears procedure, with tenants being contacted as soon as they missed one payment, but the links with support services meant it was all about tenant sustainment, further enhanced by helping them to gain skills for employment and volunteering.

But things had changed over the last two years as ‘property procurement became a nightmare’. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) had been capped at 1 per cent, deterring landlords who were relying on a rent increase. The solution was to get people to invest in properties, for an anticipated 20 per cent return.

SMB found a fund manager, the Real Lettings Property Fund, a private rented sector investment fund delivering commercial returns. It was the first property fund in the UK to buy accommodation to support homeless people, and ‘it was not just about the rent to them, it was a true partnership,’ said Fallis.

The aim was to get £45m investment to purchase at least 240 one and two-bed homes in London, near to public transport and amenities. With The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation as the first investor, others were following.

All of this showed what a small social enterprise could achieve in this sector, opening the doorway to procuring large numbers of private rented properties, said Amy Webb, SMB’s Real Lettings manager. This model represented a bridge between the private rental model and services, she said.

While the private rented model was a viable option for vulnerable people, it was essential to have the right kind of support available so they could sustain their tenancies.

‘We’re not support workers, we’re a landlord – but we can create a system where we can provide practical advice and support around how that person is performing in their tenancy,’ she said.

Part of the support entailed taking risk. Rules had been changed so that the tenant could be evicted after 12 months rather than just six, and they no longer had 20-page assessment forms. Instead, the tenant needed to commit to having ‘milestones of engagement’ in a very proactive style of rent management. Rent officers  aimed not to ‘harangue’, but opened doors to sources of advice.

‘We really want people to be able to move on,’ said Webb. ‘Real Lettings isn’t the end of the road – it’s a chance to prove you can develop a rent history and hold down a tenancy.’

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 16.59.15The long association between the worlds of homelessness and recovery meant there were many opportunities for organisations to work collaboratively together, said Thames Reach chief executive Jeremy Swain.

Dealing with a ‘homelessness backlog’, created by the housing shortage, required creative solutions. Thames Reach’s solutions included a shared housing model with an employment focus, which was supported by social investors. Three people lived in a shared house, with one of the residents given a special role as peer landlord, offering support to others on issues around housing and employment and ‘making shared housing into something beneficial’, according to Swain. With the money from investors, the housing could be offered at below-market rent.

Other housing schemes were creating ‘a realistic package of support’, such as Thames Reach’s partnership with the local authority in Greenwich, CRI and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation. Another partnership with Vision Housing was enabling Thames Reach to refer rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation, an initiative funded by a social impact bond.

Swain also outlined the benefits of the Housing First model, accepted in the US as the best way of helping people off the street. Unlike many of the housing schemes this model relied on harm reduction rather than the requirement of abstinence, but achieved positive outcomes through linking with long-term multi-agency support.

Housing was an important element to sustaining the recovery model, said Karen Biggs, chief executive of Phoenix Futures – a housing association as well as a treatment provider.

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 16.59.25‘The model isn’t the bricks and mortar – it’s the process of making sure people have what they need,’ she said. The power of communities played a huge part in that, with meaningful interaction and relationships a vital part of ‘recovery capital’.

A snapshot of Phoenix service users showed that 21 per cent had been homeless, 6 per cent were in full-time employment and 25 per cent had been in care (compared to just 1 per cent of the general population).

Interventions were vital, as service users tended to think they could have little impact over changing their lives. But alongside treatment, it was important to increase ‘personal recovery capital’ through building a sense of optimism, ‘social recovery capital’ through valuing the importance of relationships, and ‘collective recovery capital’ through realising ‘the impact of good quality, decent housing that shows that we value people in recovery.’

The organisation had developed ‘Phoenix Plus’ models as a way of taking treatment gains beyond the treatment setting, an initiative that was supported by ‘an army’ of housing associations.

‘The housing model is the process – it’s not the physical environment someone goes into, it’s not the tenancy that they’re issued, nor their landlord,’ said Biggs. ‘It’s the process of ensuring that there are appropriate pathways to align what people need with their recovery journey.’

There were plenty of barriers to overcome, such as funding cuts and benefit changes. ‘But there’s an opportunity to work together to create recovery communities to take us past bricks and mortar,’ she said. 

Words from the day’s panel session…

How can we work better with private landlords?

‘Each landlord is different, and that’s part of the biggest challenge. There are many different types of landlords and many different types of businesses. You’re dealing with hundreds of small businesses in one area, and that’s very complicated for many councils to understand because they want one person to deal with. Having to deal with lots of small businesses is quite complicated and takes a lot of work.’

Gavin Dick, National Landlords Association

‘When we were doing the State of the sector, we found numerous examples of good partnership working between landlords and treatment providers. They all fell into two or three categories. Some happened by chance. In other cases, there was a local landlord who had some experience of, or sympathy for, substance misuse and treatment, then worked with other landlords to build relationships. Finally, some examples had been brokered by positive local authorities and other organisations who had gone out and made contact with their local landlords and built relationships with them.’ Paul Anders, DrugScope

How can we mitigate the implications of universal credit?

‘DWP recognises that some people in receipt of universal credit may need additional help to make and manage their payment of universal credit. We have been working very closely with local authorities to provide a support services framework (published in 2013), to support people who need extra help. The framework promotes partnership working between DWP and local authorities as well as housing and voluntary sectors. The general idea is that these partners working together actually provide a service to help with budgets and can allow payments to be made directly to landlords.’ Izzie Pragnell, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

With Supporting People budgets no longer ring-fenced, what does the future hold?

‘Brighton and Hove have completely protected the supporting people budget. In some places it has been absolutely decimated.’ Bill Randall, chair

‘There is hope – new models are being put into place.’ Paul Anders, DrugScope

Should Housing First mean ‘housing before treatment’?

‘There’s a risk that Housing First is becoming “housing only” and that would be a very grave mistake. Having the support is vital.’ Paul Anders, DrugScope

‘There’s very much an ideological stance behind Housing First. But it’s important to consider those who won’t embrace treatment and their right to basic human rights around housing, regardless of whether they embrace recovery. Good housing, wherever possible, should be a basic human right.’ Alex Boyt, user involvement coordinator

‘Local councils need to look at the community and the bigger picture before rehousing people. In most situations, the policies are not thought through. Local councils need the courage to actually engage and do something about the housing problems in their area.’ Gavin Dick, NLA

The UK Recovery Festival was organised by DDN on behalf of The Recovery Partnership, with the aim of creating a dialogue between the treatment, housing and employment sectors. 

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