Outstanding Achievement In Housing In Wales: Finalist

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1 Outstanding Achievement In Housing In Wales: Finalist Cadwyn Housing Association: CalonLettings Summary CalonLettings is an innovative and successful social lettings agency in Wales. We have 230+ tenants so far, bringing the values of the social sector to private renting. Tenants like us because: We give them access to the private rented sector which can be difficult without help We provide choice We do not ask for rent in advance, cash bonds or bank references We help them manage their finances and pay their rent We have a quality repairs service. Private landlords like us because: We have a good reputation and they have confidence in us as a housing

2 association They can benefit the community by renting to someone who is homeless We deal with the benefit issues, overcoming the barriers to letting to someone on benefit We can access tenancy support if needed Low rent arrears - 0.5%. Homeless agencies like us because: We accept referrals and work with them to assist their service users. The Local Authority likes us because: We provide alternatives for people in hostels, relieving pressure on housing waiting lists We demonstrate that private renting is a secure realistic permanent alternative to social housing. What did you set out to achieve? We aimed to set up a social lettings agency as a social enterprise. Supported by grant funding from Cardiff Council and Welsh Assembly government to set up initially, we aimed to: become sustainable without needing further grant funding within two years compete with private lettings agents by attracting landlords and persuading them to let us manage their properties let them to homeless people in hostels who were ready to move on and blocking supported bedspaces bring social values to the private rented sector provide more choice to homeless people by helping them access accommodation from which they would otherwise be excluded provide good quality services to homeless people, which seemed to be lacking from private letting agents provide good quality services to landlords who also seemed to be poorly served by letting agents work with hostels and support agencies to ensure residents were ready to move on and able to manage in the private rented sector operate commercially and competitively.

3 We recognised that the key to success was persuading the agencies we work with that we can change the private renting experience for hostel residents and people in need of housing, and that we needed their co-operation and support. We therefore planned to hold meetings with agencies and hostel managers, to set up service level agreements around appropriate referrals and resettlement support for people leaving hostels, and to give them a say in the way the service was developed, advocating for and consulting with service users. How were these aims and objectives met? We met these aims and objectives, and achieved other outcomes that we had not thought about at the outset: We are now financially sustainable, operating without grant funding We have more than 200+ properties from landlords who have chosen us over literally hundreds of others in the open market 95% of landlords stay with us, and some have continued to be our customer even after a poor experience with a tenant, because we have managed the situation well Landlords have made improvements to their properties to bring them up to our published standard Using EPCs we work with tenants obtain home energy efficiency grants benefiting both landlord and tenant 230 tenants have been housed, 80% from homeless hostels Where a small number of tenancies have broken down we have worked with hostels to provide a step back so the tenant is not abandoned There is low tenancy turnover and a low claim rate against bond certificates We negotiated competitive rates with a furniture supplier to provide tenancy starter packs and the tenant pays a small weekly affordable amount. We were supported by a multi agency steering group which including representatives from Cardiff Council s Housing Advice Unit, Housing Benefit section and Private Sector Housing section, and the Salvation Army who piloted our processes to make sure the service worked. We did presentations to hostel staff across Cardiff to ensure good quality referrals and set up SLAs so they could be clear about the service we were offering. Managers became part of a user group so they could continue to influence the operation of the service and address any teething issues. Partnerships and relationships have strengthened and benefitted service users as we have gone on to work together on other projects.

4 What challenges did the project face, and what lessons were learned? We had problems initially getting support from homeless agencies for using the private rented sector. The housing histories of homeless people highlight difficulties in the private sector due to poor property condition, landlord harassment and so on; the usual response was to steer clear of the private sector and wait for social housing. We had many meetings with colleagues in the Council and in the hostels and support agencies persuading them this was a good idea. We also had to persuade the agencies and the Council that we should not hold a waiting list. We knew that the costs of doing so would mean we would not be competitive in the market. We learned that tenacity and necessity together can be powerfully persuasive. The scheme was slow to get going as a lot of time was spent on relationships, processes and setting up as we were finding our feet. If we did it again we would take a more robust and active approach to taking properties on and getting on with it. Managing the three way relationship is a challenge. Some tenants believe that they should have the same services as tenants in the social sector but this is not possible in the private sector. To overcome this perception we make sure that the project is separately badged, has its own website and address, and that people understand it is a private sector scheme. Getting the IT right was a challenge. Neither our standard housing management IT system, nor a letting agent IT system could work properly for us. To overcome this we have worked with a software supplier to adapt a letting agency software and now it works for us. How was the success of the project measured? The key outcome for us is the level of sustainable tenancies we have, which is a function of the number of landlords we have as customers and how many of those we manage to retain. Landlords are free to leave our service and manage their properties themselves or move to an alternative private lettings agent. A small number of tenancies have gone wrong and property has been damaged but landlords have been pleased with the way we have dealt with these difficult circumstances and have stayed with us. We charge rents close to the local housing allowance and tenants in receipt of benefits can receive up to the whole amount in housing benefit. We are also entitled as a Housing Association to receive the rent and pass it on to the landlord rather than it going direct to the tenant. This unique position mitigates the risk landlords see in letting to a housing benefit tenant and enables us to secure a unique selling point in the market. Rents are low enough so that if tenants want to go to work they should still be able to afford the rent. Rent arrears at 0.5% are very low and therefore landlords have confidence in us.

5 We are also able to let properties very quickly, from take on to sign up is as fast as three days, and landlords also find this a much better service than offered by private letting agents. The service is financially independent of any grant funding and is growing quickly. The Council have suggested that these socially managed homes have provided the equivalent of 20m of social housing grant investment. The steering group monitored the service in the first 18 months to ensure it was delivering what it intended, but have disbanded now as the service stands alone. What were the key positive outcomes? We have made more than 200+ private sector properties available to the social sector providing good quality homes. The scheme was slow to get going and after the first year we only had 20 homes. We have now let properties to more than 260 individuals and families. The majority of tenancies are sustaining without any problems. We have 11 tenants who have been with us since the beginning, another 46 have stayed more than 2 years and a further 59 for more than 1 year. This shows that landlords are not likely to end the tenancy without good reason, and the interests of all parties are served by long term sustainable tenancies. We have been able to influence landlords to improve the housing stock by insisting on a minimum standard before we take it on, and then landlords have improved properties to stay with us as an agency and to keep valuable tenants. Landlords have felt good about themselves by being able to make a positive contribution to society in letting to a homeless person By providing an opportunity for people to move on from hostels, supported housing bedspaces have been freed up for people in greater need. Being housed by our agency is now being seen by service users as a positive step and support workers are able to work with service users on move on arrangements. Service users are also keen to obtain a reference from the hostel and so there is a good rate of service users paying their personal charge and behaving in a tenant like manner in the hostels. Private renting is being seen as a realistic housing choice by more people, reducing dependence on the social sector, and in doing so they have more choice and more control over their lives. How did the project demonstrate positive practice in equality and diversity? CalonLettings is open to all. Priority is given to those who are homeless and in a hostel, but anyone can apply for any property. We do not require evidence of housing need or eligibility in relation to a local area. We don t do

6 credit checks and although we ask for references from hostels, any resident can get one if they comply with the requirements of the hostel. Properties are advertised on a website which is accessible to all and they are let on a first come first served basis. All of the hostels, the Housing Advice Unit, all the Cardiff Libraries and the Housing Associations offices provide free internet access to everyone, and if they need help to use the site it is available. The team is also available at Cadwyn s offices or on the phone. 22% of our tenants are from a minority ethnic community, and around about the same percentage of landlords are from a minority ethnic community. We use Big Word (like language line) or direct interpretation when needed. We work closely with Cardiff Women s Aid and BAWSO (a local organisation for BME women escaping domestic abuse) to provide options for women who may have turned down a Council or Housing Association tenancy and may be threatened with homelessness. Often they would prefer to live in specific areas and if the social sector cannot provide, we can. We look for bespoke properties in areas they request and a number of households have been found homes in this way. What elements of the project could be replicated by others? The entire scheme could be replicated by Housing Associations very easily and by other agencies with some adaption. The Welsh Assembly Government has provided grant funding to others to help them develop social letting agencies and most have elected to develop schemes based on different models. As the outcomes of these others have not been hugely successful we have renewed our efforts to persuade Local Authorities and other Housing Associations to adopt our model which is the only sustainable model developed to date which is free of charge to the tenant. We have devised a range of packages that could be used by others and made our paperwork and processes available. Unfortunately it seems that there is a misunderstanding in Housing Associations, they think that they are used to dealing with homeless people and they are used to managing housing so this must be easy. In reality it is actually quite different to our normal business and a different mindset is needed to make a successful and sustainable service. Due to the experimental nature of the scheme we set up a hostel managers group to inform how it worked and developed and we would recommend that any scheme should be developed taking into account the views of the services it is designed to help. It gained their commitment to the scheme and provided good ideas and leads. We have just been invited by the Vale of Glamorgan to develop a service in their area and we have appointments to discuss it with two others. Although the approval and partnership of the local authorities is not strictly necessary we believe we will be more successful longer term with their support and taking a partnership approach.

7 How does your project help to promote and support choice and independence? In 2005 we carried out some research into move-on in Cardiff Move On - To Where? and found out some startling facts: There were huge numbers of people in the hostels who were ready to move on to permanent accommodation There was little social housing available Few were accessing the private rented sector Staff in hostels tended to be ignorant of what the private rented sector could offer or hostile to it Residents in hostels were hostile to the private rented sector due to poor experiences in the past, issues of property condition or harassment, or quick eviction due to rent arrears from uncaring landlords Staff and residents did not have any sound data upon which to base their understanding of the availability of the social rented sector, for which many people were waiting - and therefore choices were being made- to wait for a council or housing association flat that may never materialise Private lettings agents were hostile to homeless people as clients, and to housing benefit clients, and would advise friendly landlords against taking a housing benefit tenant. These problems were resulting in bed blocking and lack of access into the private rented sector. In addition there were few options to present to new households who were threatened with homelessness except to wait for social housing, whether this was the best option for them or not. Having been involved in a private sector leasing scheme and getting to know the private sector market, there was a clear gap there. How will you ensure that your project will continue to have an impact on the lives of vulnerable people? The research clearly required a response and the private rental market in Cardiff was booming and full of buy to lets. We wanted to grab some of the rented property for homeless people who could manage in the private rented sector with some help to resettle and set up the tenancy. We believed there was an opportunity for an agency such as Cadwyn to bridge the gap between private landlords and residents of hostels which were overflowing. We also wanted to provide better services to landlords who appeared to be receiving poor services from lettings agents. We described it as bringing the values of

8 the social sector (excellence in service delivery, integrity and accountability) to the private sector. An agency seemed to be the ideal solution. We spoke to landlords with whom we had contact via our leasing scheme and developed the model. We consulted with colleagues in homelessness and Housing Benefit to discuss the idea and how it might work and talked to hostel managers to gain their support. The Council awarded us some grant funding and so did the Welsh Assembly Government in order to pay the salary of a member of staff to develop the project. Service Users jumped at the chance to rent properties that were often in much better condition, and in much better locations than the social sector could provide. It became successful and we were able to reach a critical mass to employ more staff. It was crucial to us that the scheme should stand alone and be financially viable without reliance on grant funding or support for the Housing Association. In order to make it competitive we had to move away from the usual model of Housing Management to something more slimmed down and focussed on what really added value to customers.

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