In the first of an Eastlondonlines series on the continuing crisis in housing and homelessness in London, Erin Cavoto reports on a new capital wide scheme to provide emergency housing for families.
Boroughs throughout London are striving to improve emergency housing for homeless families by teaming up in a multi-million pound government-funded scheme.
Croydon is the latest Eastlondonlines borough to join Capital Letters, an interborough nonprofit housing organisation created for councils throughout London to work together to secure more temporary accommodation for homeless residents and alleviate financial strains on councils. Tower Hamlets and Lewisham Councils have already approved joining the scheme.
And an Eastlondonlines investigation published today has discovered that almost 5,500 homeless families from the same three boroughs have been housed outside the boroughs over the past three years – some as far away as Leicester. Hackney, which has not joined the Capital Letters scheme, has not disclosed how many families it houses elsewhere.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will support the new scheme, providing a grant of £37.8m over a three-year period. Capital Letters will aim to secure an extra 20,000 temporary housing properties by 2022. More than 54,000 households across London are currently living in temporary accommodation – making up three-quarters of the entire nation’s temporary accommodation households.
In the first year, Croydon Council is hoping to save roughly £300,000. Deputy leader, Councillor Alison Butler, who is cabinet member for homes and gateway services told a recent meeting: “We now have a much more joined up approach to emergency accommodation. It means Croydon will have greater bargaining power and more funding to get longer-term, better-quality temporary accommodation.”
Capital Letters will procure accommodation on behalf of the boroughs, working with private landlords to secure and manage housing for homeless families. The hope is that this approach will diminish competition for housing that often takes place between boroughs due to limited options.
Butler said she anticipates this will stop “those cases when we have no option but to send people out of borough” for emergency housing.
Croydon’s homeless families face moving between housing frequently, often being placed outside their community. In 2016, over 7,000 people in Croydon were living in temporary accommodation.
Butler said: “We don’t want anybody in this borough living in emergency accommodation. We have children in bed and breakfast accommodation tonight sharing rooms that are far too small. It’s just completely unacceptable. Moving them into a more stable home is the council’s priority.”
For the past four years, Croydon has frozen its local housing allowance, meaning that some families have been unable to receive necessary housing benefits for privately rented homes.
Butler added: “The huge mismatch between the local housing allowance and actual rent levels means an average family can be £300 short on their rent. It’s money they just can’t make out of their incomes.”
Working with private landlords to negotiate longer contracts for temporary accommodation will reduce costs on the Council as nightly accommodation can be expensive. By negotiating contracts through Capital Letters, the scheme will hopefully prevent landlords charging different rates to different councils.
It is currently unclear how many boroughs will ultimately join Capital Letters. However, it is estimated that 10-15 boroughs will become members preceding the scheme’s rollout in April 2019.
So far, the funding from MHCLG is only allotted for three years, but London councils say they “hope this will be a successful new long-term approach” if Capital Letters is able to deliver on the targeted benefits.