The affordability crisis for young people in housing need is already acute, and the odds of it getting worse are stacking up. Are housing associations able to house a generation of young people who are too poor for social housing? Most are looking for innovative ways they can, but no one answer will fit all.
Recent local and national funding changes have a disproportionate effect on housing options for young people. It also redefines what we call ‘young’. Previously when most housing providers looked at their youth offer it was focused on people leaving home in their late teens and early twenties. With the introduction of the local housing allowance cap we are now looking at under 35s, who will have different needs and histories. I would fit under this cap (at least until my next birthday), despite having left my family home 15 years ago.
The ‘local housing allowance (LHA) cap’ is probably the change that will have the most significant impact on this group. For single people under 35, this means that their housing benefit will be capped at the local shared room rate, which is often significantly lower than rents for one-bedroom social rented flats. The cap comes into effect from April 2018 on lets made after April 2016 and is already influencing letting decisions by providers. There are exceptions to this rule for young people who have recently been made homeless or are leaving prison, but these are limited.
The government will also withdraw housing benefit entitlement for 18 – 21-year-olds from April 2017. Certain categories of young people will be exempt from the removal of housing benefit, including vulnerable young people; those who may not be able to return home to live with their parents; and those who have been in work for six months before making a claim.
The current situation means that young people on no, low and, increasingly, medium incomes have limited housing options. According to the JRF they are already four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts and five times more likely to be on zero hours contracts. Ironically this comes at the same time that some associations are struggling to let 1 and 2 bed flats via nominations arrangements to those most in need.
Associations across the country are looking at solutions to these issues. There is no one solution because different geographical markets, wages, and the needs of young people vary. But some of the options being explored include:
Get the government to change its mind
National lobbying to make exceptions to the LHA shared room rate cap for those in training, a get-back-to-work scheme or volunteering.
The ‘top up’ approach
Some housing associations are lobbying local authorities to make a specific discretionary housing payment pot available for young people, possibly with the condition that they are in some kind of training, or limiting it for a fixed period of two years to give them time to find sustainable employment.
Others are considering using devolution deals to bid for a better LHA rate in that area to support young people who live far away from the workplace. Devo is all about economic growth, so areas need young people to be able to afford to live in these areas and in order to ensure a sustainable work force.
Some housing associations are putting aside their own pot of top up funding for young people to access one-bedroom or two bedroom flats. For some, this is being combined with specially created ‘young persons’ tenancies. This approach benefits from providing a housing pathway for young people, creating move-on accommodation from homeless accommodation, and reducing void levels in difficult-to-let stock. Plus, these funds could be raised by charitable means, rather than via existing revenue.
Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) return
The majority of associations are looking at managing shared housing. This is not an easy solution, as it presents housing management and allocations issues. There is a lot to learn from the private sector here, and shared housing is now an acceptable housing option for most younger people in the private sector.
There are a range of different tenancy and rent options in operation for shared housing, some including bills, to make it simpler and more attractive to young people.
Some associations are looking at innovative allocations processes to ‘match’ tenants, like speed dating for allocations. Dudley Borough Council match tenants using a selection panel, after already using their ‘lifestyle preferences’ to find suitable house mate. This aims to address concerns about vulnerable tenants.
Some are even exploring the development of new build HMOs to combat concern about the quality of accommodation that housing associations can offer in existing stock.
Build smaller and cheaper
Despite shared housing being an obvious route there are always going to be tenants who want or need their own self-contained accommodation. Some housing associations, such as Accord, are exploring the use of modern building methods, such as prefabs and off-site construction, to develop small, low-cost individual units that could be viablely let at under the LHA cap.
Other are looking at the student accommodation model of private, lockable, en-suite bedrooms with shared kitchens or living space.
With the imminent impact of a range of issues affecting young people’s housing options, we have limited time to create real housing pathways for young people. The private sector will not step up, so our young people need you.