Background and context
High rents, low wages, insecure employment and the erosion of the benefit safety net make it extremely difficult for many to find and afford suitable housing. For many people who are (or are at risk of being) homeless, the high rental costs of traditional models of shared supported housing – such as hostels – can deter people from moving into employment or education, and may even encourage dependency rather than independence. The private rental sector is often simply not an option, thanks to the ever-spiralling cost of renting.
The Peer Landlord project seeks to develop a new model of shared housing which combines affordability, stability, and peer-to-peer mentoring in the form of the peer landlord role– a tenant who volunteers to take responsibility for basic household management, oversee rent payment, and provide some informal peer support to his or her housemates. The project is designed to explore whether shared housing could become a viable longer-term accommodation option for vulnerable people, instead of individual flats which may be lonely, isolated, and expensive.
The idea is to develop supportive, rather than supported, housing, where clients can learn from each other, develop the skills required for shared housing, understand the costs and budgets of living in private accommodation, and better prepare for an independent future in employment or education.
The project is split into two strands, implemented by separate project partners: Catch 22 predominantly work with younger people, often from vulnerable backgrounds, and Thames Reach for the formerly homeless, and those recently at risk of homelessness. The low rent charges offered to clients are made possible by support from social investors Esmee Fairbairn, Bridges Ventures & Trust for London.
The Peer Landlord model
Peer landlords are not professionals or case workers, but other service users, with similar backgrounds and life experiences to their fellow tenants. Suitable candidates are identified based on personality, responsibility, and willingness to act as a positive role model, and provided with extra help in key areas like basic housing management, maintenance, and financial literacy – from paying bills to managing money. The Peer landlords then act as an informal live-in mentor for each household, taking on the responsibility for making sure their house is kept running smoothly. This might involve motivating their housemates to keep the house clean and tidy, heading off potential disputes, helping to ensure rent is paid on time, and perhaps providing informal advice and support as needed. As the main point of contact between support services and the household, they can also help to identify support needs before a crisis point is reached.
The aim of the Peer Landlord pilot project is twofold: to support people in poorly-paid employment to sustain long-term accommodation, and to discover whether providing support in this way could be a more effective method of helping people to achieve true independence. The hope is, rather than being reliant on case workers with whom they may have little in common, clients can discuss their problems and gain encouragement and advice from peers who have shared their experiences of homelessness, social care, or difficult childhoods. Such a safe, mutually supportive environment should allow confidence and motivation to grow. It would also provide opportunities for the Peer Landlords themselves to demonstrate responsibility, initiative, and leadership – helping them to develop their skills and improve their CVs in the process.
Finally, the project aims to discover whether the Peer Landlord model enables properties to be let at more affordable rates than would otherwise be available. Giving tenants a stake in the running of their households may help to ensure that they are well looked after, which reduces maintenance and management costs for the housing provider. If such savings can be found, they can be passed on to the client group in the form of lower rents, making these properties invaluable staging posts for those taking their first steps back into employment.
Although the model does require some funding in order to subsidise the low rents charged to service users, there is a high potential for the project to be revenue positive overall by creating savings elsewhere (less demand for expensive hostel bedspaces, more people finding and keeping employment, less burden on social services generally, etc).
Prepare to Share
A Peer Landlord property is an opportunity for lower needs individuals to take the next step towards independence in a safe, stable environment. The scheme is designed for clients who are engaged, motivated and able to start climbing the employment and education ladder, but who need decent and affordable accommodation to keep moving forward. The chance to live in a Peer Landlord property is an incentive to progress, and experience living in shared rented accommodation.
Harry* is a tenant accessing the Peer Landlord project delivered with our partner, Thames Reach.
“After a childhood of 49 foster homes, aged 16 I moved into a council flat. In 2008 my pregnant girlfriend and I moved into private rented accommodation, but sadly our relationship broke down. At the same time my employment ended.
“I was defined as ‘non-priority homeless’ so I sofa-surfed until becoming street homeless in April 2012 when I was just 22.
“With prompt intervention from the police and the London Street Rescue (LSR) team at Thames Reach I received practical advice to find accommodation and work. I moved into a hostel for a few months before being referred to the Peer Landlord project.
“I have signed two tenancies for my new home, one as tenant, the second as a Peer Landlord. I enjoy being peer landlord. My responsibilities are so varied. I have motivated my flatmates to agree to sign up for a telephone landline and wi-fi internet and, following my research, we now use a cheaper utility supplier. I communicate with Thames Reach regularly about repairs and I have successfully reminded a flatmate to clear his rent arrears or face the consequences. I am looking forward to attending training that Thames Reach will arrange for all the peer landlords to help them in their role.
“Alongside my move into the Peer Landlord property, which is provided by Commonweal, Thames Reach staff helped me gain employment at Tesco by advising on my CV, informing me about suitable job vacancies and paying towards the cost of photo ID.
“Only now that I am in secure accommodation and employed can I make plans for my future, which include getting a full driving licence and training to be a paramedic.”
* Names have been changed
The first evaluation of the Peer Landlord project was conducted by Anwen Jones and Julie Rugg at the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, between 2012 and 2016. The evaluation applauded the project for delivering a greater quantum of affordable housing in a financially sustainable manner, and for the high tenant satisfaction with the quality of property available at LHA rates.
As we transitioned into Phase 2 of the project in 2016, the evaluation helped us to identify key challenges to address. These include:
- a more rigorous demonstration of improved outcomes for service users
- the feasibility (or otherwise) of the model outside London, in a slower housing market
- better identification of how management costs can be saved and passed on to tenants
- potentially testing a house-share without a Peer Landlord, as a comparison
- strengthening the focus on the needs of marginalised homeless clients to ensure that the model meets the demand for impact, as required by social investors.
The full evaluation report reflecting on Phase One of the project was published in June 2016 and is available here. A summary report was also published alongside the full evaluation, featuring contributions from Commonweal, Catch 22 and Thames Reach, and is available here.