How would a fairer housing market help make the difference to ending homelessness?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015 - 10:00am

Everyone’s journey out of homelessness is different, but all lead toward a single goal that many of us may take for granted: a place to call your home. But imagine being denied the chance to leave homelessness behind for good simply because there is nowhere for you to go.

This is the stark reality highlighted by a new report from YMCA England, which reveals that, despite being ready, more than half of residents of YMCA services are unable to move on to independent living, with one in five waiting more than 6 months for suitable accommodation.

The report demonstrates how lack of affordable housing, landlords unwilling to let to those on benefits or low incomes, and high rental and living costs are combining to hold many people back.

Our review of the homelessness sector in 2014 indicates that YMCA England is not alone in facing this dilemma. Amongst the homelessness projects we spoke to, a third (32%) of the people living in their services were being prevented from moving on.

So what’s the solution? There is no simple answer, but there are some steps that we know will make a difference. Some of these are outlined in Let’s Make the Difference, Homeless Link’s manifesto to end homelessness, launched in parliament last week.

We believe that everyone should have a place to call home, and a decent place to live should not be beyond the reach of the poorest and most vulnerable. Our manifesto calls on the next government, to commit to helping us reach this goal.

Whilst the shortage of available housing is a major barrier to tackling homelessness, this cannot be overcome by simply building more homes. This will be in vain if these new homes are not genuinely affordable to those most in need.

In practice this requires a commitment to increasing the supply of sub-market level housing, as the current definition of affordable – up to 80% of market rents – is out of reach for too many people. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that if social rents continue to be set at this level, 1.3m more people will be living in poverty by 2040.    

We also need assurance that the mixture of tenure of all new homes meets demand, with a good mix of homes for rent, sale, and social housing to suit the needs of all people. This will help people stay in their communities where they have the best chance of realising their potential.

For many people, the private rented sector remains the only option, but we know that this is often insecure, unregulated and poorly maintained. For example, the latest government figures show that the ending of an assured short-hold tenancy is the single biggest cause of homelessness, accounting for 29% of all people applying to their council for help, doubling since 2010. This illustrates a serious need for stronger rights for tenants, greater security of tenure and adequate housing advice.    

Above all, this requires strong leadership, commitment to tackle the housing crisis within a generation, and a focus on innovation. Other approaches to accommodation, such as Housing First and shared living for young people, have been proven to be effective. Equipping local authorities and charities with the means to develop better housings options for local people will create thriving communities in which everyone has a fair chance. This is beneficial for all.  

The current housing market is not working for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, but by working together to find a solution, turning this around is not an unrealistic goal.     

Download Let's make the difference: a manifesto to end homelessness

This manifesto, based on the views of people who have experienced homelessness in England and those who support them, sets out priority actions the new government can take to make the greatest difference to homelessness.


"We believe that everyone should have a place to call home, and a decent place to live should not be beyond the reach of the poorest and most vulnerable." 

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Jacqui McCluskey

Jacqui McCluskey

Director of policy and communications

Jacqui leads the externally focused policy and communications functions of Homeless Link, as well as line managing the policy director of the MEAM (Making Every Adult Matter) Coalition with Clinks, DrugScope and Mind.

Telephone: 020 7840 4429
Twitter: @JacMcCluskey