Introducing Commonhealth Project 7…

Housing through Social Enterprise: Implications for tenants, housing providers and wider society

When Bob Dylan asked how it feels to be without a home, I’m sure he knew the answer…and it probably had four letters in it. We all know how important it is to have a house that we can call home – the right to adequate housing is even enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care”. So it’s perhaps not surprising that a range of social enterprises have got involved in the housing sector and in supporting people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Housing associations, housing co-ops and employment projects supporting homeless people back into work are all examples of organisations with a clear social purpose and a significant trading aspect, even if they might not always see themselves as social enterprises.

Commonhealth Project 7 is intended to examine the roles that social enterprises may play in the housing/homelessness field and, in particular, the potential health impacts that they might deliver. The central focus of the project will be on Homes for Good, a Community Interest Company established in 2013 with the aim of supporting vulnerable households to access quality rented accommodation and sustain their tenancies. The organisation provides a letting agency service which aims to support people on low incomes using the private rented sector, and also to raise standards across the sector by delivering higher quality homes and services for both landlords and tenants. Since 2014, Homes for Good has also been using social investment finance to build its own property portfolio, directly providing housing to people in need.

Being not-for-profit, Homes for Good is able to use some of its income to provide a tenancy support service, helping tenants to maintain their tenancies. This might involve help with managing their money or benefit applications, looking after their home, or accessing specialist services where needed. And Homes for Good also aims to maximise its social value by using other social enterprises to supply goods and services as it renovates properties.

Throughout the project, we’ll be working closely with Homes for Good to explore exactly how they try to deliver social value and what impacts their approach may have on the health of their tenants. This will involve tracking a number of tenants over the next couple of years, to see what changes happen in their lives and how Homes for Good has an impact, amongst the many other factors that may be important. We’ll also be trying to examine the wider social impact that an organisation like Homes for Good can have through its interactions with other agencies and the wider housing sector.

Most importantly, the project aims to understand the specific impact of Homes for Good as a social enterprise and develop new ways of measuring this impact. It’s obvious enough that having a home is likely to make you feel better than not having one, but the question for this project is whether the involvement of social enterprises in providing housing delivers anything extra. In order to get to grips with this question, the research will include comparisons between Homes for Good tenants and individuals using different services – probably some delivered by social enterprises and some delivered by other types of organisations. We’re still working out exactly how this element of the research will work, so watch this space…

 Steve Rolfe