Changing perceptions to reach more landlords

We’re currently facing the most serious refugee crisis in the last twenty years, with the highest number of displaced people since World War Two.

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Ashley Community Housing was established in 2008 with an aim to support these people by offering them affordable housing along with training and education so they can become integrated into society. Our housing model works by leasing properties from local landlords.

However, with a flurry of negative press around immigration, including Brexit, we’ve seen people’s perceptions of refugees change. This has resulted in fewer landlords offering out their properties to us and therefore fewer beds to offer out.

With a waiting list growing longer by the day we simply didn’t have the number of properties needed to house everyone. We needed to find a solution before the situation became critical.

Therefore, over the past 12 months, we’ve undertaken an extensive number of projects designed to identify more properties to offer housing for refugees.

Our strategy

We needed more landlords to come forward with affordable homes we could use to house refugees. However, we first needed to change people’s negative perceptions of refugees. Our response was to innovate and launch a campaign to show landlords just how much of an asset refugees could be.

As the Mayor of Bristol put it: “In Bristol we must see refugees as an asset, not as a problem.”

Thus on 27th August 2015 our #rethinkingrefugee campaign was born. This campaign included:

  • Extensive social media activity.
  • Producing a positive video about refugees.
  • Appearing in local print and digital media, including on the BBC.
  • Organising and running a conference for 100 local businesses, the Council, five cabinet members and landlords to shift people into thinking refugees as an asset rather than a liability.
  • Extensive thought leadership including producing thought leadership reports and actively campaigning to change policy.

 

Business objectives

Our first business objective was to get more properties and we’ve certainly achieved that:

  • After seeing the video and BBC interview, award-winning local author Nathan Filer visited our office in Bristol and told us he had bought a house for our refugees.
  • Following the news of Nathan Filer’s kind offer the Mayor of Bristol gave us a home to use exclusively for refugees.
  • Throughout the campaign seven new landlords came forward to offer us houses at low rents (enough to just cover their mortgages).
  • With these new and influential landlords coming on board we wrote to Bristol City Council asking them to help. They responded by offering three homes on peppercorn rent for 10 years’ lease.

 

The above outcome will yield 30 bedrooms for refugee accommodation.

The real success is not from gaining these new houses, but the reasons they were given. The second objective was indeed to change the perception of the Bristolians and this is exactly what has happened. These landlords have offered their houses to us because they got behind the campaign and have truly rethought their perceptions on refugees!

Sharia Compliant Investment Model

As a Muslim organisation, we follow Sharia law (a religious law governing the members of the Islamic faith). This means any investments we receive must be Sharia compliant and we can’t charge interests in the traditional way.

Research showed no one in the UK offered such funding so we were capped at the level of funding we could receive. We were getting by with donations and rental income, but we wanted to expand on our existing leasehold portfolio by buying freehold residential properties with a target of having 16 additional beds.

To do this we needed around £900,000.

In early 2015, we approached RBS and other foundations and have since been working on a Sharia compliant yield sharing investment product to enable asset-based social impact investment.

The product is now complete and we’ve successfully used it to gain £1m of investment through our innovative Sharia compliant investment model. This will allow us to purchase seven properties in Birmingham, housing 25 tenants (exceeding our target of 16). The activity has also broken down the barriers for many other refugee organisations and people interested in ethical investment.

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