Towards the end of the homeless housing pilot scheme I completed in Manchester between 2013-15, an investor I’d worked with regularly since the beginning approached me with regards to creating a ‘model’ property; one where we could take all of our learnings from the previous two years to create a stunning example of innovation in affordable housing options.
This would be a project where we could implement strategies and systems for rapidly housing those who were homeless or disadvantaged – and we could share our work for other professionals to learn from and be inspired by.
One variation of the concept which had worked well during the previous few years of testing was our home for women who were experiencing a difficult time; those who were living in temporary accommodation had had family issues, breakdowns in relationships or had suffered domestic violence.
Amy Varle and Social Property Investment
- Part 1 – Introducing Amy Varle
- Part 2 – The Local Housing Allowance ‘Strategy’
- Part 3 – Housing the Homeless (Manchester Pilot Scheme)
- Part 4 – Social Property Investment
- Part 5 – Housing 2.0 (Lessons from the USA)
- Part 6 – Shared Living In The USA and UK
Creating A ‘Model’ Property
We had been supporting a number of ladies who had formed a close bond during the period they had lived together and they had each become valuable assets in the household – and each-others recovery.
This was a win-win: we could upgrade their living environment, whilst they played a role in the overall design of future projects and services.
This would be a housing project for the homeless, by the homeless.
Some of the ladies had been rough-sleeping and were very troubled when we met: now they were thriving and the sound of laughter filled their communal home – the women were socialising, working, undertaking training – and generally enjoying life again.
I hoped this cycle of support and recovery would continue as the project now evolved. If we introduced new ladies to the household, would they be inspired to turn their own lives around with the backing and encouragement of their fellow housemates, who had recovered successfully from similar periods of instability and crisis?
The tenants were understandably delighted when the vision for their brand-new home became a reality and the refurbishment of the accommodation was complete.
During works that were undertaken by the investor and his team, a traditional four-bedroom home which had stood empty for over ten years was totally transformed; into a one-of-a-kind HMO/Studio hybrid, containing six self-contained studios and additional communal areas.
The building was completely remodeled with requirements of occupants taking paramount importance; space was created which would promote both privacy and socialisation – each unit containing a living area, shower room and breakfast making facilities, as well a large communal kitchen area for residents to enjoy mealtimes together.
The gas supply was removed from the property and each unit was fitted with its own electricity meter; a move made to assist tenants with budgeting, economical living, and long-term financial management.
Putting Systems In Place
Barriers to access such as traditional credit checks and the requirement for rent in advance were removed by the owner, who applied a strategic and procedural way of working in order to largely mitigate risk.
Systems were implemented surrounding tenant selection and blending, administrative support and social integration, as well as strategies for rental payments, potential problems, collaborative management, and systematisation.
In order to link residents with the specialised support they may need, I connected with local public and third sector organisations who could share resources and assist tenants day-to-day. I hoped this move would encourage occupants in sustaining their homes and meeting all of their responsibilities, whilst positively moving on in life.
The biggest challenge ahead was making sure all participants of a created consortium (landlord, tenant and supporting agencies) felt they were obtaining something of value from the agreement created and so fulfilled their ongoing obligations.
Social Property Investment Case Study – The Figures
|Rent In Advance||£0|
|Weekly Rent: LHA Rates||£83.00|
|Weekly Top-Up (Wifi & Water)||£3.75|
|Quarterly Saving (Housing)||£28,019*|
|Quarterly Saving (Non-Housing)||£10,925*|
*Making It Count Cost Indicators by Crisis
Social Property Investment
As a ‘showcase’ project, I tried here to create solutions which would be rewarding in some way to each involved party or beneficiary.
My aim was to demonstrate a model which was removed from the traditional ‘LHA’ strategy – I was tired of seeing the hardworking and thoroughly decent landlords I was supporting continually berated in the press.
‘Slumlord’ is not a term I think should be associated with the people I work with, who go out of their way to create good-quality, affordable housing solutions; taking time and spending money to become educated, whilst striving to continually improve their tenant experience.
It was at this stage I began referring to the work we were doing as ‘Social Property Investment’, in order to demonstrate the contrast in our approach.
Early development of ‘Social Property Investment’ strategies revealed a way to maximise profit and cost effectiveness, minimise and mitigate risk – and ultimately, make a difference to the lives of people housed, as well as wider society.
‘Social Property Investment’ is not just randomly warehousing benefit claimants, with a sole focus on a financial return.
‘Social Property Investors’ actively provide comfortable, secure homes and take measures to safeguard the people they house.
Refining the Approach
Of course, this ‘model’ project was far from perfect and there were many headaches along the way. It was difficult to rehabilitate new tenants as the ‘supporting services’ which were promised at the point of initial contact often failed to materialise long-term – a frequent problem encountered over a previous couple of years of practical research.
There were integration issues when one new housemate brought drugs and unsavory characters into the home; one evening I learned via Facebook there had been a fire, another, there was a litter of kittens…
My experience with this project inspired me to go back to the drawing board with the aim of finding sustainable access to tenant support; rather than as before, laying focus on the bricks and mortar aspect, which is actually easy to find.
The financial rewards which are associated with property investment are wholly extendable to the provision of affordable housing – the crucial piece of the jigsaw to be found is a free-flowing and flexible resident support supply, which would consistently encourage complex tenancies to be maintained.
This time, my quest to find solutions would lead me 5,000 miles across the ocean to the American state of California, where innovation, enterprise and radical solutions to homelessness would be revealed to me in abundance.
Get In Touch
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