Crisis, the single homeless charity, got some money for research into Housing First which is a potentially excellent solution to many problems in single homelessness that can and will work … but not in Liverpool. This proposal should never have passed any feasibility stage never mind got as far as being adopted.
You can see what has happened here which is regrettably all too typical of Housing Think – a term I use consistently when no thought goes into housing issues – as Crisis also got political backing for it in Liverpool and they engaged admitted experts to undertake the research and today they published the research and the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said he was going to adopt this and, as you would expect there is widespread TV, radio, print and other media reporting on this which calls this a radical change of national import as a major pilot of a large scale HF service.
This Housing First proposal and policy wont work and never could and that really angers me as a supported housing consultant from Liverpool who has worked in, managed, managed the managers and advised single homeless providers for 24 years. I also designed set up and operated and managed a Housing First model 20 years ago and know the model can work and work very well. Yet when and not if it buggers up in the Liverpool City Region and it will do so despite the appetite for it amongst many relevant actors, it threatens the entire model known as Housing First from being adopted elsewhere and thus resigned to history, something that it does not deserve.
The bloody obvious was missed from the outset by the passion of Crisis to get a HF model into operation and that is the housing stock supply in the Liverpool City Region of the five Merseyside councils and Halton.
All variants of the Housing First model – which to oversimplify allocates those who are homeless a property first and not conditional on addressing support needs such as drug, alcohol, offending, mental health, etc ahead of allocation – require suitable properties which are almost exclusively 1 bed properties to be available.
We know that 1 bed properties are in short supply as the bedroom tax and the inability to downsize has proved. More significantly we have actual data and fact in the English Housing Survey which reveals that 28.2% of all social housing has 1 bedroom. Yet we also have fact that the Liverpool City Region areas have a pitifully low proportion of 1 bed properties at 16.83% in Wirral, 16.72% in Liverpool, 15.03% in Knowsley, 14.96% in Sefton and just 12.41% in St Helens and that data is in the Statistical Data Return provided to the social housing regulator.
Simply the LCR area has just 15 in every 100 social housing properties being 1 beds compared to 28 being 1 bed properties as the English average. The LCR region is the last place you would choose to pilot a large scale Housing First pilot unless you wanted the Housing First model to fail and I know from speaking with Crisis that this is not the case.
It begs the question why was this simple known fact not considered before going ahead with this research, proposal and adoption on this bull in a china shop approach?
Housing First in the LCR area cannot work on a large scale basis because of this. It possibly can on a smaller scale though only a few limited housing associations may take part as only a few of them have anything over 10% of their stock as 1 bed an note there are no council landlords in the LCR area.
It could work on a shared accommodation basis with for example two persons sharing a 3 bed property for which the LCR area has a surfeit of supply with the LCR areas all having more than 50% of total properties as 3 bed+ compared to the English national average of 36%. That shared model stacks up far better financially for social landlords however there is very little appetite for shared housing by HA’s for low risk general needs tenants so we must assume there will be even less for higher perceived risk tenants such as those who are homeless.
In summary the very pertinent point is that this Housing First proposal for LCR should never have got off the table given the facts of the housing stock in the region yet nobody thought to even check whether the Housing First model was feasible in this critical regard.
The above despite being 2013/14 table and not changed to any significance shows the English national average of 1 bed stock among social landlords to be 28.2%
Data I have collated from the 2015/16 Statistical Data Return by all social landlords in the area reveals the 16.83% for Wirral to the 12.41% St Helens figures I mentioned above.
Additionally those HA’s with over 20% of total stock which is still 25% below the English national average are those HA’s with small stockholding with the exception of Liverpool Mutual Homes and all other former council landlords have less than 15% of stock being 1 bed properties.
Even if new SRS developments included 1 bed properties and they do not I strongly doubt these would be allocated on a higher risk Housing First basis.
Will the Housing First LCR large scale pilot have to rely upon the private rented sector? Yes if this proposal proceeds into LCR policy and that does not meet the underpinning of stability and security in the Housing First model and in operational terms having a private landlord with a tenant supported by a visiting support officer is hugely problematical and to be avoided.
These are just some of the reasons why Crisis choosing the Liverpool City Region for a large scale pilot of Housing First is madness and idiocy. There are regrettably many more that are ridiculously complex to explain even to a homeless professional audience and all of these issues require a huge amount of assumption as to the actions of landlords and tenants and also in a theoretical vacuum of how such a policy interacts with housing and housing welfare policies and changes.
I genuinely admire the radical nature of Housing First and we do need radical policy change as all previous homelessness oriented policy initiatives have failed and from governments of all persuasions over the past 20 years or more – mostly from an ignorance of what homelessness is and means. It is a hugely complex area that is extremely dynamic and can never be solved by a simple theory even with the huge backing that Housing First now has.
It takes time and costs money, the two issues that all politicians despise, because of its huge complexity.
Homeless hostels have done a good containment job for decades yet have been chronically underfunded for decades too and it is worth remembering that accommodation based homeless hostels were found to cost 35% less than visiting support services (at £17 per hour compared to £23 per hour) the so-called floating support by the Audit Commission back in 2005 during the Supporting People programme.
When you have a cash limited amount of money to deliver such services why would you choose the 35% more expensive form of support?
That is just one of the apparent anomalies of the Housing First model and only becomes cost-effective when you have a greater than 35% improvement in outcomes (however nigh on impossible it is to measure outcomes in any case!) Yet Housing First can work and does work elsewhere outside the UK in relation to rough sleeping but ONLY when it is used as an add-on to it and not a replacement for it which I suspect is the real agenda of the current vogue for Housing First as a model – or quite simply a cost cutting exercise on a very vulnerable client group that is seen as not deserving and always has been in all forms of homelessness.
I could easily draft 5000 more words on this off the top of my head to really dig deep into the huge changes by central and local government and by landlords that are necessary to accompany the previously perceived radical Housing First model itself yet one thing is 100% certain – this HF large scale model cannot possibly work in the LCR area and needs a fundamental rethink.