Stephen Wasserman of National Housing Group discusses the keys to delivering good quality ‘eco’ social housing
From ITV’s ongoing investigation to young influencer Kwajo Tweneboa’s tireless social media campaigning, social housing is becoming an inescapable subject, and rightly so. Plainly put, there isn’t enough social housing to go around and much of the housing stock out there is, frankly, abysmal.
All too often landlords are not held accountable for poor quality housing. We’ve heard horror stories first hand from our tenants of their experience with mould, broken facilities, safety concerns and rodent infestations to name just a few. It seems it’s only with the recent implementation of Awaab’s Law that people are understanding the severity of poor (or absent) housing.
There has been a huge decline in the affordability and availability of housing in the UK. Statistics released at the start of 2023 by Shelter show that one in every 208 people in the UK is homeless – that’s 271,000 people, including children, without a place to live. The number of people living in temporary accommodation has skyrocketed by 74% over the last decade.
National Housing Group (NHG) was founded to combat the housing crisis and homelessness. By salvaging disused properties we have so far housed more than 150 people in high-quality social housing. Working specifically with local authorities, housing associations and charities, we are collaboratively providing social housing for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
We provide high quality and above-industry-standard homes, while also providing realistic business margins. We believe developers can provide high quality social housing, positively affect homelessness and the housing crisis, reduce the cost of living for tenants and help the Government on its way to net zero by 2050.
RETROFITTING FOR PEOPLE & PLANET
According to the National Housing Federation, 340,000 new homes need to be built in England each year to keep up with housing demand. We’ve seen other developers talk about building on the green belt as a solution to finding more space for new homes, but this just isn’t necessary.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government last year put the number of empty homes in England at 648,114. That number is likely to have increased in 2023 and doesn’t take into account second homes and other empty houses, commercial or mixed-use freeholds.
To date, all our developments have been transformations of disused properties, from care homes to two-bed apartments. In Aylesbury, we are working on an abandoned care home which had been empty for more than five years before we started renovations. By targeting properties like this, we have lots of space to play with and single buildings which can provide new homes for lots of people and improve neighbourhoods for existing residents.
At one project in Essex, we transformed an abandoned care home into a fit-for-purpose, freshly decorated and retrofitted social housing property with 25 self-contained units. The property has enabled a number of local people to stay in their own area and, by working with the charity Social Interest Group, we have been able to create a home complete with additional space for health and social care work to take place. One of our tenants is so pleased with the support he receives that he is hoping to become a member of staff and help others in his situation.
GREEN LIVING IMPROVES LIVES
There’s a long list of eco features we’d like to install in all our properties, from biomass boilers to ground source heat pumps, but from a cost perspective that’s just not realistic in every case. In saying that, we do have some key components which are fitted in all our properties to help with emissions, durability and the cost of living for our tenants.
Replacement double glazing, electric ecostrad radiators, energy efficient and durable appliances, wooden flooring and enhanced insulation are some of our regular eco features. At another project, which is also in the south east, we’ve estimated that these features will save tenants more than £500 per year. In turn, this gives them a better chance at regaining independence and allows them to spend money on things which will improve their quality of life; gym memberships, healthy food shops and transport to spend time with family.
By launching our ‘green homes initiative,’ we are able to limit our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce fuel poverty. We work closely with our solar panel provider which has seen tenants pay as little as 50p per day for their electricity as a result of the energy their solar panels are delivering.
The project (in Essex) is a big building with more than 50 solar panels installed on the roof, converting 15 kWh per hour. On a sunny day these panels can produce up to 80 kWh per day. To put this into context, a three bedroom house uses an average of 10 kWh per day. Tenants now have a huge energy supply for their home, resulting in money saved for them and energy being supplied back to the grid.
HOW PRIVATE LANDLORDS CAN BENEFIT THE SOCIAL SECTOR
Private landlords don’t come with the best reputation, but it’s a stigma the NHG team is working hard to shake. We work closely with our partners to deliver their exact needs and often manage the properties too, asking for feedback and tending to issues within 24 hours of them being reported as standard.
Without private landlords developing properties there wouldn’t be enough stock; even with private input there is still a long way to go to get on top of the hundreds of thousands of properties we need to see, year on year.
Bigger budgets and more flexibility mean that social housing can result from redundant properties. Private intervention means faster turnarounds, higher quality homes and custom-built properties in keeping with a local authority or housing association’s specific requirements.
We welcome new legislation which will ultimately see private landlords held accountable for the state of the properties they manage, in turn giving social tenants a better quality of life.
THE ‘HOUSING FIRST’ MODEL
The Housing First model tells us that housing is a fundamental human right. Through education and the expertise we have in-house, we hope to eliminate the stigma that surrounds social housing and homelessness. Our tenants come from all walks of life and are often struggling with addiction, ill health or other troubles in their personal lives. They can be in desperate need of support and a place to live.
Housing First directly impacts those in need of a home and has a knock on effect on the rest of the community too. Reducing the number of people on the streets means less worry and cost for councils and less of a strain on the NHS and other healthcare providers.
A home gives people stability, protection, a safe haven, increased self-worth and improved mental and physical health. While social housing in this country is a long way from where it needs to be, positive change is happening. By starting to chip away at the existing building stock in England, whatever their original purpose, we can start to really level the playing field in terms of available properties for those in desperate need of high quality, safely managed social housing.
Stephen Wasserman is CEO and founder of National Housing Group