Globe trotters

17/02/2012

Jon Lord calls for more action in the private rented sector for migrants, a project he is working with HACT on.

Population churn and the role of the private rented sector are two big issues that social housing providers need to get to grips with.

Over the past decade, migrants from across the globe have settled throughout the UK. About three quarters move into the private rented sector - often in the worst houses of multiple occupation, caravans and even sheds. Of the remainder, most come to live with family.

Only a small proportion of new migrants access social housing, but some are potential future tenants, many are our employees or those of our sub-contractors and others are local residents with a significant number living in right to buy homes.

As neighbourhood managers, we should take action to support new migration and integration in solidarity with existing residents. As charities, we should care about tackling the appalling housing circumstances that many new arrivals face and helping those who end up destitute (now a significant proportion of rough sleepers).

The private rented sector is the only growth area in housing and its tenant base, standards and ownership (most landlords have five or fewer properties) are increasingly diverse. Yet there is a worrying vacuum in effective local housing strategies. Some councils have accreditation and bond schemes, but much-needed resources to incentivise good landlords and tackle rogues have been slashed. So how can we engage?

Leasing is one option and is examined in a new report by the Housing and Migration Network, to be published next week. There are several commercially viable schemes run by social housing providers. Small landlords and investors who lack management skills may also agree to let to agents for longer periods. This helps refugees put down roots.

Bolton at Home is participating in HACT’s accommodate private rented sector scheme which includes other housing and community partners in the north west, London and Sandwell developing a mix of leasing and access schemes for refugees. HACT and self-helphousing.org are also supporting community-based initiatives to renovate empty private properties using the £100 million empty homes pot - fertile ground for partnerships between migrant groups and housing providers.

At local level, effective joint working is vital; a migrant family renting a right to buy home will be facing many of the same pressures as the social housing tenant next door.

Some big challenges remain: the ability to enforce standards at the bottom end of the market; the impact of the new room rates; and the new asylum support contracts now solely in the hands of three large private contractors. And will some in the sector consider developing new housing options, perhaps partnering with employers, to cater for our mobile migrant workforce?

People are on the move across the world and the private sector plays a key role. This calls for common cause within the current housing and welfare reform agenda.

Jon Lord is chief executive of Bolton at Home and a member of the Housing and Migration Network, a partnership between HACT, JRF and Migration Foundation, part of Metropolitan Housing Partnership

Read this article in Inside Housing.

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