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Solutions-based approach

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Homelessness can’t be reduced without innovation solutions in place, says John Taylor, managing director at Mears Housing Management

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If the election was noteworthy for anything to those of us in the housing sector it was this: universal agreement from all political parties to build more homes.

Politicians from the far left to the far right of British politics, and everyone in between, made building one of their key pledges.

Such cross-party agreement is rare but welcome - but it is also as clear an indication as any of the size of the housing crisis and the dire need for affordable housing.

Despite the political agreement, new homes cannot be built overnight. Meanwhile, homelessness is as stark a problem as ever. The latest statistics show that homeless households continue to increase. The number of households in temporary accommodation is up, and the number being re-housed in other areas of the country is growing. By the end of 2016, each night more than 75,500 households stayed in temporary accommodation and 6,900 families in B&Bs.

With the Homelessness Reduction Act set to be introduced later this year, the onus is on local authorities to step up and solve this problem. But with budget cuts set to continue, the problems can only get worse. The challenge for councils is how to meet these new statutory obligations and by providing the necessary casework and accommodation services.

So what do we do? At Mears, we are working with our local authority and housing association partners to look at innovative ways to provide accommodation that is affordable, safe and comfortable, as well as working to prevent homelessness in the first place.

The price of most properties in London and the South East means capped Local Housing Allowance does not provide enough for many households to afford to stay in their homes. Alternative accommodation is scarce - in many London boroughs, only the bottom 10% of the market is affordable, which is not sufficient to meet demand (and of questionable quality). The only alternative for many London local authorities is temporary accommodation in B&Bs, nightly lets or homeless hostels.

But these are short-term, expensive solutions - unsettling and, frankly, unacceptable for families seeking to build lives and support their children.

So where are the solutions to be found? Overleaf shows two of our current approaches - one is a joint venture with the London Borough of Bromley, which looks to tackle the problem of the actual lack of homes available to the local authority. The other project looks to offer more than a roof over the heads of vulnerable people and families, additionally offering practical advice and skills to help break the cycle of homelessness.

Of course, the longer-term solution to homelessness is to build more homes. And while politicians agree on this, how many of those new homes are targeted at combating homelessness?

Few housing providers want to specialise in homelessness. Not enough affordable housing is being built, and very little is being built or supplied for existing social housing developments. However, at Mears, we know from experience that by creating partnerships with housing providers who can supply finance and expertise - and who are willing to get their hands dirty - local authorities can find answers.

John Taylor, managing director, Mears Housing Management

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