With inequality around health, education and life expectancy on the rise in some of our poorest neighbourhoods, Clare Budden discusses why housing providers in North Wales and elsewhere should be focusing more of their resources on ending poverty
THE work of housing associations has long gone beyond building and maintaining good quality homes. But the question of where our role should start and end is a complex one.
Lots of providers do great work investing in communities – but where can we have the biggest impact? And how can we create lasting change that tenants are telling us they want to see?
Cuts to the public purse have been devastating. The poorest people in our communities have less money in their pockets. They are in income, food and fuel poverty.
There are fewer services offering a safety net for those in the most need.
People living in areas of higher deprivation in North Wales are likely to live 11 years less than those in other areas.
It is wrong that people’s life chances should be so dramatically different depending on their postcode.
That’s why it is now more vital than ever that housing providers step up to the challenge and invest in tackling poverty.
This is where our work can make the biggest difference.
Focusing resources on projects that help people access more disposable income will provide more opportunities for healthier, happier and more fulfilled lives.
It also makes good business sense.
Enabling more tenants to be better able to pay and keep up with their rent means less property turnover, fewer voids, less antisocial behaviour and stronger communities.
No poverty mission
This is why at housing association ClwydAlyn, we have a new mission that centres around ending poverty.
Our commitment is for everyone to be able to access good housing that they can afford, income to enable them to live the life they choose, heating to stay warm and the food they need to stay healthy.
To do this, we need to move away from some traditional housing practices.
For example, we have set a new target of working towards no evictions.
Evictions do not address underlying challenges people face – they simply move a problem or vulnerability and can make things a lot worse for those affected.
Our approach centres on providing better support so that people are able to sustain their tenancy successfully. If a tenancy has to end, we do everything we can to ensure that there are no evictions into homelessness.
We recently had to take possession proceedings for a tenant in a four-bedroom property where there were a number of issues including non-payment of rent.
The property was much bigger than he needed and there were a number of other tenancy issues. We found him another smaller and more suitable property which we know will also help him to alleviate some of his issues with family members.
So far this year we have achieved a 75% reduction in evictions.
We never turn away a new tenancy on affordability grounds. If people can’t afford our social rented homes where will they live? We do a full income and expenditure assessment ahead of tenancy commencement and make sure we take practical steps, which could include providing fixtures and fittings, help and advice with debts or practical support to increase incomes.
We work hard to ensure every tenant has the best chance of living successfully in one of our homes.
We are already seeing significant results.
We are also taking forward a new partnership to address food poverty and targeting investment into improving homes to tackle fuel poverty.
Employment and skills
We are targeting our resources to help more people into work, education, training or volunteering. We have had some great successes, but we know we can do more.
We are working with a range of third sector companies to create local jobs and training opportunities and we are increasing the number and range of apprentices we employ.
We are also investing in a scheme in partnership with We Mind the Gap, which is targeted at women that haven’t had the best start in life and provides them with six month, paid traineeships to set them on a path for education, more training or decently paid work.
We are working in partnership with Project Search to offer traineeships for 10 young adults with learning disabilities which will see them move to full time work at the end of the programme.
Homes are only the start of our investment in communities, but we must not underestimate our wider responsibilities in the current climate. There is much more we can do, if we choose to, to end poverty.
Clare Budden is group chief executive of housing association ClwydAlyn