Is shared housing the solution to the SRS homeless ‘rehousing crisis?’

England’s social landlords provide 13,000 properties per year to single homeless households.  England has 150,000 single homeless households excluding the 386,000 single homeless sofa surfers England has each year but including 50,000 rough sleepers.

Those two facts of 13k social landlord supply and 150k single homeless demand reveal that social landlords are tiny bit-part players in any solution to homelessness in England.  Social (sic) landlords have been bit-part players for decades when it comes to providing the bricks and mortar which begins the escape from homelessness.

They provide less than 10% of all properties to the 150,000 single homeless households (excluding sofa surfers) and they provide just 2% of properties to those who have fled to a domestic abuse refuge then how do they get away with branding themselves as social landlords?

Social as in social purpose or social ethos means that trope these landlords often state such as we will always house those most in housing need as we have social purpose or a social ethos.  The facts reveal landlord claims to be ‘social’ is a known lie from these landlords and known because these figures and meagre percentages have been consistent for years if not decades. 

Why do SRS landlords deliver so few single homeless properties?

In practical terms three-quarters of all SRS properties are 2 bed or larger and thus not available to single homeless households who qualify for a 1 bed property.  Of the 25% that are 1 bed SRS properties the majority are reserves for sheltered housing that is those over the age of 55.  The best estimate is that England’s SRS landlords have 22 – 24,000 1 bed properties that become available each year for those aged up to 54. 

Why this is the case is that the vast majority of England’s SRS properties today, managed by councils, ALMOs or housing associations, were built between 1950 and 2010 and built at the whim of local councils very subjective version of ‘housing need’ that broadly meant family sized housing and not the 1 bed property for those of (broadly) working-age.  Today’s SRS landlords have inherited this situation by inheriting council built properties mostly built in this post-war period.

This problem has been known for decades in the field of homelessness and called the ‘move-on’ problem.  In short if there is nowhere for hostel residents and the one third or more of refuge residents who are single to move TO then they cannot be moved OUT.  The other obvious consequence is if you can’t move OUT existing residents from hostels and refuges then you cannot move IN any new homeless residents. This means more rough sleepers who cannot access homeless hostels and more domestic abuse victims cannot become survivors as they cannot move into refuges.

Today, due to the eviction ban being in place for many months, the situation is even more acute.  This ban does not just halt evictions it halts almost ALL housing moves involving rented housing and works just like house buying when you are in a chain situation. Even worse is the proposal to ban no fault evictions that is likely to become statute later this year.

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) provide over 90% of the bedsit / studio / 1 bedded property’s to single homeless groups.  If the single homeless number in England is 150,000 then the split is 13,000 SRS to 137,000 PRS supply.  Banning NFE makes every one of these 137,000 more risky and more likely to cost PRS landlord more to evict and to manage.  As such, the PRS landlords will take significant flight from rehousing the far more risky / far more costly single homeless cohorts.  Crunch the numbers and a meagre 10% PRS flight means the PRS rehouses 13,700 fewer single homeless persons each year which means the SRS landlords have to increase their 13,000 current total to 26,700 or more than double the number of properties they now release to single homeless households.

Above I estimated that the SRS landlords in England only have 22 – 24,000 1 bed suitable properties that become available each year so they cannot deal with a tiny 10% PRS flight from rehousing single homeless persons.  My best estimate is PRS flight could easily reach 30% once the NFE proposal becomes law and thus rehouse some 40,000 fewer single homeless persons each year.  That is based on 28 years working in the field and from much anecdotal evidence from homeless providers across the country that I advise or speak with since this NFE policy proposal was first raised by the May government in April 2019.

Why part of absurd nonsense is the belief that PRS landlords will take on far greater tenancy risk and far greater tenancy cost in continuing to rehouse single homeless persons for not a penny more in rental income?  ALL industries and ALL sectors ALL work on the basis of higher risk equals higher reward yet the policy proposal to ban no fault evictions assumes PRS landlords will take on higher risk for no higher reward!  I am personally and professionally aware of PRS landlords changing target client groups and moving away from all higher risk tenants due to the NFE proposed legislation. 

I predict before the end of 2021 that SRS landlords will come under extreme pressure from central government to reprovision their larger SRS properties into single person use properties.  Councils and housing associations will be told to sub-divide properties and to operate shared housing provision as standard.  I know from experience in the field that SRS landlords are loathe to sub-divide and to operate shared housing provision.  I see this as inevitable and also know that shared provision can work well with far lower risk than perceived and it stacks up very well financially.  Shared provision has worked very well in supported housing for decades and it can work equally well in mainstream general needs housing and in reprovisioning existing SRS properties.

As a crude example many of the ubiquitous 3 bed / 5 person SRS properties (2 double bedrooms and box-room in lay parlance) can readily and successfully be shared by two nurses or two factory workers at little cost and little risk and provide 2 x 1 bed rents which is far more than 1 x 3 bed rent across most of England.  It really can be that simple and a much better and more viable option than one HA who infamously converted many of their (73% of all properties) from 3 bed / 5 person properties to 2 bed properties by knocking down walls as a bedroom tax / overall benefit cap response.

Over the last 20 years I have developed and advised upon shared provision for supported housing purposes so I know they can work for single homeless groups and work in what is now general needs properties.  They can work for those in low paid work and for those not in employment and combinations of the two yet there is a prejudicial culture among mainstream SRS landlords that this is too risky when it is not at all. 

The progressive SRS landlords will be looking at this before they come under extreme pressure from central government to adopt shared provision.  Such reprovisioning and letting go of endemic cultural prejudices can also significantly reduce single homelessness and the criticisms of SRS landlords that their offhand and bit-part offers they now operate.