No room at the inn

    It has been a damaging few weeks for the social housing sector,
    which has finally been called to account for its failure to meet
    the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups in society.

    First, the Audit Commission is to investigate the allocations
    policies of the housing associations after claims they are
    “covertly excluding some vulnerable groups” – notably ex-offenders
    and young people with chaotic lives.

    Second, homelessness charity Centrepoint has claimed thousands of
    homeless 16-17 year olds are being placed “at serious risk of
    abuse” in bed and breakfast hotels. Government figures show that,
    as new targets which prevent families staying more than six weeks
    in B&B start to bite, desperate councils have simply moved the
    families out and replaced them with vulnerable teenagers.

    And third, the Housing Corporation – the quango which funds housing
    associations – has just come under fire from an influential
    parliamentary committee for having “lost its vision” and for
    failing to champion the cause of social housing.

    Twenty years ago, councils could allocate their own housing on the
    basis of need. Today, social landlords are expected to be “in
    business for neighbourhoods”, and their business-like finances
    don’t leave much room for vulnerable people. Landlords won’t risk
    troublesome teenagers frightening other residents away. They seek
    reliable tenants who pay the rent, keep their gardens tidy, and get
    on with the neighbours. The result may well be sustainable
    communities, rather than ghettoes of deprivation, crime and
    poverty. But where does this leave those most in need –
    ex-offenders, young homeless people, and those struggling with drug
    or alcohol problems?

    It is time for the government to redefine – unambiguously – what
    and who social housing is for, and how it should work. It should
    issue firm guidance to social landlords and social care providers
    on how to work together, and end anomalies that allow housing
    departments to send a homeless 16 year old back to social services
    as “a child in need” while social services tell them “you’re
    homeless, go to the housing department”. And it should address the
    chronic shortage of affordable housing of all kinds.

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