How can housing associations support the next generation’s housing needs?

24 August 2017

It’s no surprise that young people are the most affected by our current housing crisis. The average age of a first-time buyer is now well over 30, while many of those locked out of home ownership are finding it harder to secure an affordable, decent place to rent privately.

Until now, social housing has been the affordable safety net for young people.

However, this net will be removed for single, childless tenants in April 2019, as any housing benefit or Universal Credit they receive to help with their rent will be based on the shared accommodation rate (SAR) of Local Housing Allowance, unless an exemption applies. If their rent is higher than the SAR, it’ll be down to them to make up the shortfall.

It sounds complicated, but ultimately it means that young, single people – including those in low-paid work – will find that even social housing has become unaffordable and out of reach.

As part of CASE – a group of South East-based housing associations – we commissioned Sheffield Hallam University to investigate the impact of this policy change in our region. They also looked at potential solutions, so we can continue supporting this generation’s housing needs.

The report found this change will affect 9 out of 10 housing association tenants aged below 35. And those under 25 and out of work, will be left with an average of just £3 a week to live on after covering their rent.

So, what can housing associations do about it?

Our research looked into various solutions for younger people; but many of these wouldn’t be financially viable after 2019. In many cases, the intensive housing management that made these solutions successful would need to be scaled back or removed altogether to stack up financially against SAR. 

We also found that most young interviewees in the study didn’t see living in shared housing as a long-term solution. They wanted privacy, a place to call their own and, for those with children not living with them, it just didn’t suit their lifestyle.

Nevertheless some associations are trying to solve this dilemma and have been piloting innovative sharing solutions. For example, using joint tenancies and the development of two-bed, two-bathroom homes, specifically for sharers. 

At the moment, these solutions are small-scale and while promising, it’s hard to see how we’ll cope when the full scale of the problem is revealed in 2019. It’ll take a lot of investment and the building of new homes – starting right now – for us to be ready.

So, while it’s the right thing to do to look for ways to adapt, the problem could ultimately lie in the policy itself.

As a sector we’re asking the Government to look again at SAR. We’d like them to consider its impact on young people – their lives and ability to sustain their tenancies, work and independence. 

We don’t intend to abandon this generation and we hope the Government can work with us to make sure young people continue to have access to decent, affordable housing, providing a strong platform for their future lives.

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