New research from Centrepoint shows that when homeless young people are ready to move on and live independently, they’re being held back by the housing crisis. We are calling on the government to build more safe and affordable housing to break the cycle of homelessness and provide young people with safety and stability.
Improving social housing for young people
Centrepoint’s new report, Somewhere to Call Home: improving young people’s access to affordable, safe and secure housing, explores the housing aspirations of young people with experiences of homelessness and examines how they can be supported to access stable housing.
Through interviews and focus groups with 18 young people and 39 sector stakeholders, as well as a national survey of 213 young people, the research found that young people with experiences of homelessness aspire to access affordable, safe and secure housing. For the young people taking part, this aspiration was often reflected in an ambition to access social housing – with many viewing these tenancies as the most affordable and stable options on the market:
“Social Housing is and always has been affordable for those in need. So for those who turn up at the council and need somewhere long term to live on the minimum wage they receive.” - Jane, North London
Furthermore, participants emphasised that social tenancies can provide opportunities for young people to have control over their lives. In doing this, they indicated that the affordability of social housing means that young people do not have to share their homes with others and engage in unwanted interactions in communal areas. Moreover, they emphasised that the security of the assured tenancies often provided by social housing - enabling tenants to live in their homes for as long as they want – allow young people to develop notions of ownership and, perhaps for the first time, invest in the places in which they live.
In addition to aspirations for affordable, safe and secure accommodation, the research found that social housing often acts as a catalyst for the pursuit of future goals. Participants highlighted that the stability offered by social tenures can enable young people to participate in activities that require longer-term thinking and goal-setting – In comparison to previous experiences of short-term and volatile accommodation.
“My flat is my little safe spot, I guess. Yeah, I think everything starts with just a roof over your head.” - Alex, North London
For example, a young person suggested that the stability afforded by a social tenure “(gave) me the chance to explore my options” and “build what I want to build” (Michael, South London). Accordingly, he argued that social housing had enabled him to take ownership of his home, using the security of his social tenancy to spend time developing business ideas and pursuing career opportunities.
Equally, participants highlighted that the stability of social housing can empower young people to develop networks of support. This is because affordable housing can enable young people to connect with communities and control who their time is spent with. Some of young people taking part highlighted that these factors enabled them to harness the value created within communities and build networks of support with friends and neighbours wherein they would both receive and provide assistance.
“I connect with neighbours that are of the older generation, because I feel like they're more trustworthy. And I think that is purely just because of what I've been through. And yeah, I like to have older neighbours because they take care of you.” - Ivy, the Midlands
How to help young people access stable housing
While it is evident that many young people hope to access affordable, safe and secure housing in the social rented sector, it is also clear that the nation’s housing crisis makes this a difficult prospect. As has been well publicised, the decade’s long paucity of social housing development has reduced opportunities for many people to access this tenure. However, it is only when we examine the limited rate of 1-bedroom and studio developments – the types of housing most commonly allocated to young people – that we understand the true impact of this crisis on vulnerable young people.
Government allocations policies restrict single people to bidding on smaller properties. Yet in 2021, housing provider stock consisted of far fewer smaller properties than larger two and three bedroom homes. This means that single young people – many of whom are in a priority need category - are seeking to access social housing in an environment of resource scarcity. Accordingly, many young people are at risk of remaining in supported/temporary accommodation for longer than is necessary or returning to homelessness.
Equally, opportunities for young people to access social housing are limited due to the lack of churn in the social rented sector. Participants emphasised that young people are currently “at one end” of a slow moving “housing chain”, meaning that, without significant intervention to increase the rate at which people vacate properties, members of this cohort will struggle to access existing housing stock (Housing Association, London and Southern England).
This evidence suggests that social housing is unattainable for many vulnerable young people. Government, Local Authorities and the wider housing sector must, therefore, do more to enable young people to access affordable, safe and secure housing. Programmes that increase the stock of smaller properties, incentivise effective use of existing housing stock and promote innovative housing products that meet young people’s needs are all important methods through which we can address demand. Moreover, young people need to be supported to live independently and make the most of their tenancies through skills training, welfare support and help to access employment.
This report aims to inspire conversation about the value of social housing to young people with experiences of homelessness. In doing this, we call on all relevant stakeholders to consider the housing aspirations of young people, and support them to access and harness value created by affordable, safe and secure accommodation.