How can housing associations’ role as anchor institutions help prevent homelessness?

Neil Munslow, 18 August 2021

Newcastle City Council believes that stable homes are at the heart of residents’ lives and Newcastle’s neighborhoods. We also know that many residents face financial and personal challenges in sustaining their home. Our aim is to proactively support all our residents to sustain their tenancies and to not evict anyone into homelessness.

Our social landlords are key partners to realising our aims. Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) manages our 26,700 homes and is an exemplar social landlord. Their work shows social housing’s value as an anchor institution by providing affordable homes for those who need them, and advice and support to sustain those homes. YHN have over 70 specialist staff who provide financial inclusion advice and personalised support.

Our first Homelessness Strategy in 2003 made homelessness prevention our key aim and working in partnership was central to our approach. For landlords this means proactive risk management: assessing risk at the pre-tenancy stage, providing support to meet risks during a tenancy and to prevent eviction into homelessness if the tenancy is at risk.

We’ve continued to build on and refine this approach. In 2008 we developed a Prevention from Eviction Protocol, which was revised in 2012 into Sustaining Tenancies Guidance to encourage landlords to support residents to remain in their home. This approach has helped YHN to reduce evictions by 75% since 2008, to just 50 in 2019-20.

Over the last 10 years, residents have faced increased hardship, confusion, complexity and conditionality. Over 40,000 of our residents are now fed by foodbanks. The council also has far less resources to help residents’ meet these challenges. We have, therefore, had to maximise our collective investment and understanding. In 2013 we developed our Active Inclusion Newcastle partnership approach to support residents to have a stable LIFE – somewhere to live, an income, financial inclusion and employment opportunities.

Since then, we’ve developed proactive and integrated responses for residents with interrelated needs. In 2017 we became one of the government’s three ‘early adopter’ Homelessness Prevention Trailblazers. And in 2019 we established our corporate debt review to respond to increasing problem debt – moving from ‘collection to connection’.

In July 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, our cabinet approved a proposal for the council and YHN to develop an approach than ensured no evictions into homelessness. We’re reviewing our sustaining tenancies guidance to help multi-agency staff to support residents. This collaborative approach ensures residents have a suitable and sustainable home and prevents the risk of homelessness. If a tenancy can’t be sustained we aim to facilitate a suitable move to avoid homelessness.

We want to consistently identify and respond to financial problems at the earliest opportunity, aligning risk triggers, like rent arrears or a crisis payment, with the information, advice and support to help to mitigate the problems. We believe that proactively preventing homelessness at the earliest possible stage is the right thing to do. We hope that with visible leadership we will be able to create a city-wide culture of proactive prevention of homelessness.

Our long-term approach to homelessness prevention was recognised when Newcastle won the World Habitat 2020 Gold Award. We aim to extend our approach of no evictions into homelessness to all social landlords in the city, and to inspire other places to make the policy and practice changes to support their residents to have a stable LIFE.