Commonweal's Peer Landlord project of supportive shared housing took off in 2012 and is set for further expansion over the coming year. The model, developed with Thames Reach and Catch22, revolves around the principle of a more advanced tenant (the Peer Landlord) providing informal, positive, role model peer support to other, less advanced tenants in the household.
The model seeks to show how shared housing, something traditionally seen as unattractive, not wanted or not suitable for many people, can become a positive option helping individuals develop new skills, resilience and positive social relationships. It helps to provide a bridge between traditional supported housing and hostels and the mainstream private rented sector, which is the destination for most clients as access to social housing reduces.
The intention remains to seek a sustainable, cost effective business model that is clear on what levels of support are required to ensure tenancies are sustainable and households are stable.
The Peer Landlord model is also helping our project partners to develop their relationship with their clients, helping them to build independence amongst those clients ready for it, so they can move away from any sense of ongoing support dependence, creating cultural as well as operational shifts.
The need for this type of model is growing all the time as the government's welfare benefit reforms really start to hit home. Changes mean that a self-contained flat becomes an impossibility for growing numbers of individuals and is completely unavailable for any single person reliant on benefits under the age of 35.
Recognising that the world is moving on rapidly in this field, Commonweal and our delivery partners are already in discussion with a range of local authorities who are seeking solutions for their single homeless clients. The potential exists for early replication of the Peer Landlord model. We hope that if this occurs the findings can be included in the overall evaluation of the model, which is due in 2014.
Over 20 individuals have been helped to date, with this number set to rise rapidly as we grow the property portfolio, thanks to the social investment of £1.5m from three our enlightened investors – Bridges Ventures, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Trust for London.
The learning delivered already by the Peer Landlord project has already included:
• The preparatory training and information needed by peers and tenants to maximise the chances of a successful and stable household.
• Specific support for the peer landlords in property management and maintenance, conflict resolution and relationship skills.
As the initial pilot phase progresses, Commonweal, Thames Reach and Catch22 along with our evaluation partner, the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, are also starting to think about options and opportunities as well as reviewing again the underlying financial models and the ongoing support costs from the delivery partners.
Our evaluation has been helped by the expert input from Geoff Kendrick of Nomura Bank who provided guidance and advice on the economic metrics we should consider and seek to measure. This support for Commonweal was organised with the help of the charity Pro Bono Economics.
The intention remains to seek a sustainable, cost effective business model that is clear on what levels of support are required to ensure tenancies are sustainable and households are stable; how much such support and management costs; and where this can be funded from. In addition, the evaluation of the model seeks to capture the personal impact and outcomes for those housed as peers and as tenants.
Caroline Tulloch, Investment Manager at Bridges Ventures, explains why the social investor is helping to buy houses
Can you create innovative solutions to social problems that can change the status quo and improve services to some of the most disadvantaged? And can you finance these solutions in such a way as to be genuinely sustainable, facilitating replication and wider-scale take-up and driving systemic change?
The belief that you can forms one of the key tenets of social investment: that sustainable social financing solutions enable sustainable social business models to scale, reaching more beneficiaries and inspiring wider scale adoption of the model.
Bridges established the Social Entrepreneurs Fund in 2009 with this in mind. Our own investors (including the Office of Civil Society, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and J.P.Morgan’s Social Finance unit as well as our own Bridges Charitable Trust) are united by the belief that social enterprises delivering high social impact with a financially sustainable model can be an effective tool for change – and can help leverage increasingly scarce philanthropic resources.
The Peer Landlord model seeks to test a new model for intervention that uses peer support to reinforce positive influences and support positive social outcomes in a more cost-effective way than existing provision.
The Peer Landlord project run is a perfect example. With social housing shortages reaching record highs and the cost of providing essential services to those in traditional supported housing models escalating, local authorities and charities, such as Thames Reach and Catch22, which provide services to vulnerable individuals with high support needs, are keen to see more effective solutions to help individuals transition to independent living.
For those previously homeless, there is currently little ‘move-on’ accommodation in the gap between high intervention, high cost supported accommodation, and fully independent housing. The Peer Landlord model seeks to test a new model for intervention that uses peer support to reinforce positive influences and support positive social outcomes in a more cost-effective way than existing provision. The model offers deep impact for the individuals directly supported, and the potential to drive market-level change by developing a best-practice blueprint that can be replicated.
Alongside the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Trust for London, we have committed a combined £1.5m to acquire the properties used for the project. It has been a great opportunity to work with two of the more forward-thinking foundations operating in the impact investment space, and an exciting example of collaboration supporting innovation.
Before making the commitment, Bridges and the other social investors looked closely at the business model as well as the social impact. This is not grant funding and we do expect a financial return; less perhaps than could be achieved with more mainstream investments, but a vital part nevertheless of the package. The scrutiny of the business model we believe is helpful too for those seeking investment – helping to review assumptions and costing; seeking to ensure robustness, resilience and longer term sustainability.
Commonweal’s commitment to action research adds a different dimension to ‘success’: the model which delivers the greatest impact to tenants may evolve from the model in place at the moment, but all stakeholders are committed to working to deliver the goal of independent, shared living as effectively as possible. An unusual position for an investor used to searching for clear evidence that the model in which they are investing ‘works’ – but a compelling investment opportunity for a pilot fund aiming to support pioneering methods of delivering exceptional social outcomes.