The social housing sector has an ageing customer base matched by a sharp decline in the number of households with children renting from us. Samantha Harrison, Senior Sustainable Communities Officer, tells us about two initiatives she is involved in to support young people aged 8 to 24 and their families across Calderdale to redress this balance.
“I believe that children are the future.”
It may be a cheesy line from an 80s power ballad, that admittedly none of the kids I work with have probably ever heard of, but for housing associations it is literally true.
We have a business interest as well as a wider social imperative to develop approaches that are both attractive to families and help young people gain access to our properties.
Sadly, as a sector, we have been guilty in the past of taking a negative view of young people. Too often our first contact with them has been through anti-social behaviour proceedings
But at Together Housing Group and Newground, we understand that family-friendly neighbourhoods will attract people to an area and make them want to stay. We know that an area rich in activities and resources for young people will be likely to experience less anti-social behaviour and higher youth attainment.
Positive engagement with young people: involving and including them, seeking their views and finding out about their aspirations, will pay dividends. Contact with young people can be a positive experience with a long-term future.
While we’ve provided activities to keep kids off the streets for years via our youth service Reach Out, our Engage programme goes one step further, targeting those with more complex needs. From a relationship breakdown with their parents to drug-addiction, truancy to self-harm, we provide early intervention for young people before they become at risk of being referred to social services.
Lockdown has hit young people particularly hard but imagine if you were cooped up in a one-bedroom flat with your dad and teenage sibling. That was the reality for one family we were working with. Needless to say the pressure took its toll and while 15-year-old Adam refused to engage with school, 17-year-old Alison was battling depression and anxiety.
Through our intervention, the family are now living in a three-bedroom property, the daughter has access to mental health support and the son is looking forward to returning to school in September.
We’ve also provided support to Alison’s boyfriend, who had been struggling on his own since his dad passed away, as well as the other half of her family – mum, brother and half-sister who live in another one of our properties.
10-year-old Hannah was also reluctant to return to school but for her it was the change to her routine that made her anxious. After 10 weeks at home, Hannah, who has Autism, had adapted to the new normal but the thought of going back to school after such a long break and the new regulations sent her into a panic.
I met Hannah over FaceTime and as I built up her trust, she would open up to me about her experiences as a carer to her mum. The day before she was due to go back to school, she agreed to let me walk with her to the school gate. We met her teacher outside who explained all the changes to her. Reassured by what she was told, I’m pleased to say that Hannah went to school the next day.
We also help young people at risk of homelessness. Single parent Jackie got in touch to say she was struggling with her 16-year old son Dan. He was disrespectful and aggressive. When he smashed up her house and got arrested, it was the final straw and she threw him out. We worked with him to secure emergency accommodation and are now helping him secure his own tenancy.
Every situation is different but we believe young people should be seen not as nuisances, but as potential tenants.
Times have changed for housing associations. We now offer far more services than simply a roof over people’s head.
Many factors are driving this change – the Government’s focus on peaceful neighbourhoods and community cohesion, for example, and the higher aspirations of both tenants and housing providers.
A key part of the wider role expected of us is engaging with, and supporting, young people, both as community members, and present and future tenants.
As more and more young people find home ownership beyond their reach, they will turn to social housing in greater numbers. By getting involved with young people early in their lives, and maintaining a commitment to them as they grow and develop, we will be helping to create neighbourhoods where people want to stay, as well as nurturing tenants who have the skills and knowledge to make the most of their communities.
Living alone for the first time can be extremely daunting for young people. Our Rise programme teaches people aged 18-24 how to cope with tenancy, debt and isolation.
Moving into their own flat can be risky for young people starting to live independently. They sometimes don’t realise all these responsibilities that come with taking on a tenancy.
We help them with every step of renting a home: understanding their responsibilities as a tenant as well as what to expect of a landlord, managing benefits and budgeting on a low income, reading meters and paying utility bills, how to avoid debt, community awareness and dealing with isolation.
We also teach them practical life skills such as cooking on a budget and how to use a washing machine.
When a young person has just moved into a hankered-after home of their own, it can be a shock to the system. They’re in a flat on their own and they have no disposable income so there aren’t a lot of options for socialising. They can quickly feel isolated.
They may lack confidence and knowledge. Building confidence is essential for a new tenant to feel able to talk to their landlord about repairs, for instance, or claim benefits they’re entitled to so they can afford rent and bills.
We try to get young people to anticipate problems that may arise and help them think about how to address them constructively so when things go wrong, they can get back on track.
We’re working with one young lady who has just turned 18 whose mum is terminally ill with cancer. Tragically, she is going to have to get used to life without her mum so we have helped her secure her own tenancy and all the things that come with that such as sourcing furniture, as well as supporting her emotionally during this difficult time.
While it’s heart-breaking that she is going to lose her mum so young, it is comforting to her mum that she knows her daughter can be independent and will get by without her.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the young people