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- Author or Editor: Cathy Davis x
Housing associations are central to the government’s strategy to improve social housing yet have no direct statutory responsibility for rehousing homeless people. This study critically examines the role of housing associations in responding to the needs of women who have become homeless due to domestic violence.
Housing associations - rehousing women leaving domestic violence will fill a gap in the literature for academic staff and students interested in housing studies, social policy, sociology, women’s studies, political studies and organisation/management studies; provide valuable guidance to staff in housing associations and local authorities working in “general needs" housing, supported housing and homeless services; and provide policy makers with a useful introduction to key issues.
The global financial crisis of 2007-08 was triggered by sub-prime mortgage mis-selling in the US and the global sale of these debts as new bonds.
Austerity programmes are designed to reduce the borrowing that governments undertook to stabilise failing banking systems but the UK’s Coalition government is using ‘austerity’ as a cover to dismantle the welfare state. Housing is at the forefront of these changes. Mortgages and rental costs are rising as ‘the market’ dictates them, while people with low incomes now receive substantially less financial help from the welfare state.
In this much-needed text by an experienced author with a policy background, current housing finance issues (and their history) are linked with broader social policy and political themes. It covers the finance of building and refurbishment, managing and maintaining property for all the different tenures (owner occupation, council housing, housing association and private renting), and discusses whether current arrangements are sustainable. Written for housing, social policy and politics students and staff, it is also accessible to anyone concerned about housing in Britain today.
For the past 25 years it has been recognised in the UK that many women need access to short and long-term rented council housing to enable them to leave violent men. Since the 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, local authorities have had an important role to play in providing accommodation to women who have become homeless because of domestic violence. However, their role is now changing. Some of these changes were initiated by former Conservative governments, although they are being developed further under the current Labour administration (DETR and DSS, 2000). By focusing on the work of privatised and independent housing associations, this book examines the realities for homeless women of the fragmentation of direct state provision of council housing.
On average, between 10% and 25% of the total number of households accepted as statutory homeless each year by local authorities are women who are homeless as a result of domestic violence (DoE, DETR and ODPM, Quarterly returns for each year [ODPM, 2002c]; see also Chapter Two). Throughout the 1990s, the local authority in the study reported in this book annually accepted approximately 2,000 homeless people as statutory homeless. By the mid-1990s, 30% were women fleeing domestic violence. 14% of those were black or Asian. This authority was known to respond sympathetically to any person who was homeless because of domestic violence or the risk of violence, whether or not they had dependent children. One question I asked in this research was whether the 1996 Housing Act affected this approach. This study’s findings provide the grounding for any future evaluation of the impact of the more generous provisions of the 2002 Homelessness Act.
Two aspects of housing management are reviewed in this chapter to better understand their impact on women leaving domestic violence: first, the variable implementation of the homeless legislation and, second, the operation of waiting lists. Research published in England, Scotland and Wales since the 1950s is examined with the aim of understanding the wider historical background against which current developments are occurring and to identify those themes that have proved remarkably resilient over time. Most research has concentrated on how the homelessness legislation has been implemented. Research on council and housing association waiting lists also has been included here since they became more important as a route to rehousing following the 1996 Housing Act. The current government’s enthusiasm for introducing more ‘choice’ into the housing register and waiting-list systems currently in use will also affect homeless people in ways which have not yet been seen (DETR and DSS, 2000).
The review begins with a discussion of the impact of familism on council house assessment and allocation. Familism describes processes and practices which have explicitly or implicitly attributed merit and priority to the white nuclear family form. Housing management staff have used to varying degrees particular attitudes towards the nuclear family as a baseline or ‘ideal type’ against which to use their discretion in assessing applications and allocating property through the homeless legislation and waiting-list practices. These have adversely influenced the nature of the housing service offered to women trying to find a new home away from violent partners/ex-partners because they have not conformed to the ‘ideal type’ nuclear family.
The local authority in this study owned and managed 70,000 properties at the time of the research. It had 19,000 households on its housing register (or waiting list), and in 1997 let 10,600 properties. The local authority had accepted just over 2,000 households as statutory homeless over the previous year. Over 70% of these were households headed by women (most being lone parents or vulnerable single women), and 14% of these were black or Asian.
From the early 1990s, increasing numbers of women had approached the local authority for help with emergency housing, including women who were homeless because of domestic violence. In the period 1990/91, 295 women were accepted as homeless for this reason, representing 14% of the total accepted as homeless in that year. The figures steadily increased so that in 1996/97, the year before the present study was undertaken, 630 women (30% of the total) had been found to be statutory homeless because they were in priority need, having become homeless because of domestic violence. There was little variation in these figures up to the end of the decade. The housing Research Manager in this local authority believed that the numbers were “almost certainly an undercount” because of the difficulties of maintaining accuracy across neighbourhood offices, central homeless teams and directly-run hostels.
This chapter concentrates on the local authority’s role in helping women who were homeless because of domestic violence. It provides the background to the rest of the study.
The first part of the chapter looks at the overarching framework within which women’s requests for help were considered, examining the way in which the local authority responded to changes in its statutory responsibilities towards the homeless following the 1996 Housing Act.
The 1988 Housing Act introduced new funding arrangements for the house-building programmes of associations, reduced security of tenure for new association assured tenants, and removed the requirement to set ‘fair rents’ on new tenancies. Associations could now use private as well as public funding to provide more social rented housing. The Act had effectively privatised housing associations. The 1989 Local Government and Housing Act followed. This changed local authority funding, reducing even further their power to build. Given these developments, the local authority in this study decided to work with five associations in a consortium to undertake a large building programme up until the mid-1990s. A number of ‘beneficiary’ associations also worked on specific sites. This was politically more acceptable in this Labour authority than the alternative of a large number of individual associations freely competing for development opportunities, although it was not quite the pure ‘quasi-market’ envisaged by Le Grand and Bartlett (1993).
Nearly 2,000 new rented homes in a wide variety of locations were built. Most were for families as this was the preference of the local authority (see Watson, 1986, for a broader discussion of this tendency). Although the associations owned the properties, the local authority retained 75% nomination rights to the lettings made by the associations for the next 20 years. A new hostel for homeless women was also built on the same basis. In 1997/98 a total of 2,041 association lettings (relets and new lets) were made across the city. The lettings made by the three associations in this study represented about one third of that total lettings figure (716 out of a total of 2,041).
All of the housing associations in this study had offices in one particular area of the city where the city’s large African Caribbean and Pakistani communities, as well as many other minority ethnic communities, could be found. The offices had been there for a long time: Foxglove HA over 15 years; Bluebell and Tulip HAs over 10 years each. Having a local office had been regarded as important from the 1970s onwards. Associations could provide services in an easily accessible way: the assumption was that many applicants and tenants would call into the office personally (NFHA, 1987; Housing Corporation, 1989). There had also been an expectation from the early 1980s onwards that the ethnic origin of staff would reflect that of the areas in which associations worked. This would show a willingness to provide an appropriate and fair service (NFHA, 1982, 1983; Housing Corporation, 1989). How associations provided an accessible and appropriate service in this multi-ethnic location was a key theme in the analysis of the process of applying for housing. The findings here illustrate the complexities involved. They provide evidence of the need for some associations to seriously review their race equality strategies (an especially pertinent issue following the 2002 Race Relations Amendment Act).
In general terms, ‘customer care’ was emphasised rather than fairness or diversity in service provision. In Foxglove and Tulip HAs, ‘customer care’ had been introduced ostensibly to usher in a more responsive approach to ‘customers’ (that is, applicants and tenants). The ‘customer care’ ideology had not yet officially penetrated Bluebell HA.
The three case study associations varied in the numbers of properties they had available to let and the numbers that were allocated to homeless people, including women who had left a violent partner/ex-partner. As far as women’s applications were concerned, a broad range of influences affected whether they obtained sufficient priority to be rehoused. These are explored in this chapter.
The local Bluebell HA handled twice as many lettings (353) as the multi-regional Foxglove HA (174) in the year when the interviews for this study took place. Surprisingly, the smallest association in the study, Tulip HA, also handled more lettings over that year (189) than Foxglove HA in this particular local authority area. (It was possible to directly compare all three associations in relation to this since the local authority supplied information about Foxglove HA’s performance from CORE statistics it obtained on a local authority-wide basis.) However, the staffing complement to deal with this work was similar in the three associations. Practically, this meant that staff in Bluebell HA had far more assessment and allocations work than the staff in the other two associations. Tulip HA, the small black association, was the only association which rehoused homeless applicants in significant numbers. It exceeded both Bluebell HA and Foxglove HA numerically (109 compared to Bluebell HA’s 64) and in the proportion of its total lettings which were made to homeless applicants (58% compared to Bluebell HA’s 19% and Foxglove HA’s 20%).
More women leaving domestic violence were rehoused by Tulip HA than the other two associations numerically (31 compared to Bluebell HA’s 14) and proportionately (16.4%, 3% and 3.8% of the total applicants rehoused within each association, respectively).
The final part of this study considers the views of women who were tenants of the case study associations. They had been rehoused as they had become homeless because of domestic violence. What did they think about the services they had received from hostels, the council and housing associations? Were they happy in their new homes? How settled did they feel in the areas in which they were now living?
The first part of this chapter considers the nature of the temporary living arrangements that some women made when they left their former homes. It also looks at the position of other women who could not leave like this. Women experienced a number of practical and emotional difficulties in trying to obtain help despite having a high priority for housing. Women’s fear of their ex-partners, their desire to maintain ties with their wider family, and their own personal beliefs, values and self-confidence all influenced their actions and choices. Certain routes to help and accommodation (temporary and permanent) were blocked in different ways: because of lack of income, language differences, distance between family members, family size, the age and sex of children, ill health or disability.
The chapter then moves on to consider women’s views about the ways in which their housing applications were dealt with by housing staff. The usefulness of trying to keep pressure on staff in relation to their applications and their views about the need of associations for supporting evidence or proof are explored. Their perceptions of the helpfulness (or otherwise) of housing management staff illustrates how assessments of quality have to move beyond simple performance indicators to accurately capture people’s feelings about the services which are provided.
Housing associations are becoming increasingly important as providers of social housing. If the present government’s stock transfer plans proceed (DETR and DSS, 2000), they will take over the role of being the main provider of social rented housing from local authorities by 2004. This increasing privatisation of social housing stock is paralleled by the continuing fragmentation of public housing policy. The present study illustrates what this may mean in practice for homeless women who have left violent men and need to find a new home.
The primary homelessness legislation in force at the time of this study was the 1996 Housing Act. This has now been superceded by the 2002 Homelessness Act, which provides local authorities with new duties as well as amending some of those originally found in the 1996 Act. The aim of the new legislation is to provide a more constructive response to homeless people than was possible before. The new legislation will reinforce the practice of local authorities which have been offering a sympathetic response to homeless women who have escaped domestic violence, including the local authority in this study.
The 2002 Homelessness Act expects local authorities to review homelessness in their areas and prepare a strategy every five years to respond to it. This strategy should cover preventative measures, temporary accommodation and support. The 1996 Act has been amended so that ‘priority need’ status has been extended to single people who have experienced or who are at risk of violence and who are considered to be vulnerable. The restriction of two years for the provision of temporary accommodation has been abolished: temporary accommodation is to be available for as long as it takes the applicant to be provided with permanent accommodation.