David Searle, co-founder and COO of social housing investment firm HSPG, explains why affordable and supported housing holds the key to bolstering social inclusion and building thriving communities
As the UK’s housing crisis worsens amid supply chain issues and missed building targets, Michael Gove, the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, described the housing problem as a crisis “fundamentally about social justice”.
While it is positive to hear those in government recognising the wider issues accompanying a lack of supported and affordable housing, the danger of social exclusion for those facing housing insecurity is significant. Increasing housing supply is vital to provide access to safe, well-connected, and well-maintained living spaces that empower people to play a thriving role in our society.
Easy access to infrastructure and services is a central part of social inclusion. By driving out people in need of affordable housing to isolated and remote areas, we risk depriving them of the opportunity to access meaningful employment while increasing their reliance on expensive and time-consuming commuting routes. Similarly, access to essential services such as GPs, hospitals, and retail opportunities is a vital part of social inclusion and wellbeing.
Topographic segregation further carries with it the risk of stigmatising social housing, deepening existing divides and preventing the formation of healthy communities. One step to combat this issue is converting disused retail units into residential space, an approach which contributes to sustainability and carbon reduction goals by negating the need to demolish and rebuild existing structures.
It is estimated that regeneration measures such as these could provide up to 450,000 new homes – a significant contribution towards housing targets. Conversion projects such as HSPG’s transformation of a former William Hill retail unit into flats for people who have experienced domestic violence can be a useful and sustainable way to increase the supply of much-needed homes in locations where this can truly make a difference.
Promoting inclusion for young people
Research by the charity Centrepoint shows that over 120,000 young people were homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2019/20. These figures highlight the devastating effects that an inadequate supply of supported or affordable housing can have for an entire generation. It places young people at risk of being denied the opportunities in work and education that are so important for a fruitful future.
Levelling Up White Paper:
- Gove outlines housing ‘missions’ ahead of Levelling Up White Paper release
- Levelling Up White Paper: Key takeaways for housing
- Levelling Up White Paper: The sector responds
Since our very first acquisition at HSPG, I’ve seen first-hand the difference that safe and secure housing can make in someone’s life. When we managed to provide housing for a family of refugees, their young daughter could finally focus on studying for her GCSEs and get the grades she needed to fulfil her ambitions. High-quality housing with adequate space for study and support for those in education is vital for young people’s academic performance – a key factor in enabling them to achieve their dreams later in life.
Building new, high-quality social housing within easy access of community centres as well as sports and arts facilities is also crucial to ensuring that a generation of young people aren’t left behind. In the wake of the pandemic, and if left unaddressed through a shortage of affordable and supported housing, this youth homelessness crisis will continue to impact on people’s lives.
Safety and accessibility
A further barrier to social inclusion is accessibility. Too often, housing is not designed for people with reduced mobility and disabilities, making it exceedingly difficult for people with accessibility needs to reach their own home as well as services, shops and public transport. This must be factored into social housing construction if the risk of social exclusion is to be avoided.
“Affordable and supported housing is the key to building thriving communities, providing refuge for those in need and guaranteeing a meaningful future for young people”
Moreover, supported housing can play a large part in guaranteeing personal safety and helping people to feel secure. For instance, refugees or those who have experienced domestic violence deserve safe and protected accommodation. A strong community in the form of well-designed neighbourhoods is vital to supporting those who have experienced violence or trauma in the past to be able to move forward in their lives.
Looking to the future
Ultimately, affordable and supported housing provision is the key to building thriving communities, providing safety and refuge for those in need and guaranteeing a meaningful future for young people. If the promise of ‘levelling up’ is to be delivered and social inclusion made a central part of this, then housing must be at the forefront of the government’s agenda.
Image: David Searle, co-founder and COO, HSPG