Helping young people through the housing maze

The word ‘crisis’ has been used so much in relation to housing and welfare reform that it just doesn’t have any impact anymore. Of course we need to build more homes but we shouldn’t lose sight of the other things we can do to help young people find (and keep) homes. Work is going on to help young people navigate the housing system – and not all of it costs more, writes Kathleen Kelly from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The first thing to tackle is finding somewhere to live. If we don’t get this bit right there are very few second chances. As one young person told us “we’ve had six lessons on how to write a CV but they’ve never even mentioned housing”. As Prodigals Education Trust’s work shows it’s about being honest with young people about what it’s really like out there now – what types of housing there are, how much everything costs, and that what your family and friends tell you about getting a council house or finding a private tenancy just might not be true anymore.

I’m writing this on the day that local authorities’ ability to discharge their homelessness duties into the private rented sector comes into force. Private tenancies can be really good news for young people. However they can be much harder to get. We estimate that around 400,000 young people under 35, including families, will be struggling to compete for homes in the bottom tier of private renting by 2020.

Help with rent deposits is of course important. Offering a local letting agency to act as a broker between landlords and tenants is also incredibly useful. These services can act as a hub for housing options and can operate within or outside existing structures. Homes4Let set up by Poole and Bournemouth councils also provides a management service for landlords within their local lettings agency. Depending on your local housing market such services have the potential to pay for themselves. There’s no denying that reforms to local housing allowance are a threat to such services but if the offer is right for landlords they can work well.

Another option is shared social housing. It’s not what young people necessarily want but it is the reality of today’s housing market and social security system. SnugBug is being developed by St Vincent’s in Manchester to offer shared social tenancies at local housing allowance rates. It’s a way of offering good housing management for young people who might otherwise languish on a waiting list and/or be excluded by private landlords wary of letting to young people. Given the shortage of shared housing in many areas and the restriction of benefits to the cost of a single room for people under 35 these innovations will be crucial to preventing homelessness in many areas.

Schemes like local lettings agencies and shared social housing can work together with local allocations schemes by using pre-tenancy training as a way to offer both skills and references for young people.

The 26 per cent increase in homelessness over the past three years means that we also need to think about support services. Being smarter with what we’ve got means avoiding duplication and being more flexible in commissioning and delivery. Properly coordinating services and front line staff from different agencies meeting regularly about complex cases is much more effective for everyone. We might also get better outcomes if we ask support services what can be done within a cost envelope rather than focusing too much on the hourly rate a service costs. Commissioning has a clear role to play here.

Housing is not the only issue facing young people. Being able to plan for a move and having the support and resources to implement it are all crucial to success. That means we mustn’t forget about using our organisations’ procurement and recruitment roles to ensure that we’re offering good quality jobs and training for young people alongside our housing services.

This article first appeared in c’llr magazine December 2012. Kathleen Kelly is a Programme Manager for Place at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. More information on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s work on young people and housing is available at: www.jrf.org.uk/young-people-and-housing.

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