A problem shared

Looking for innovative solutions to the housing problems faced by young people, Newydd Housing Association launched Rooms4U.

Mark Lawrence heads to Barry to find out more.


July A Problem Shared Newydd

Housing for people under-35 is becoming an increasingly important topic. The options the generation has are not only limited, but mostly out of reach for that demographic.

Newydd Housing Association in South Wales has 193 tenants within the Barry area who are aged between 18 and 35.

Faced with changes to the Local Housing Allowance, it sought the help of Crisis and some local housing association partners to come up with a project that developed a new option for young people.

The result is a project called Rooms4U.

With homes provided by Newydd and the local council, Vale of Glamorgan, the project is also backed with £30,000 funding from Crisis and £1,000 each from Hafod Housing Association, Wales and West Housing and United Welsh.

The project has already received plaudits for its good work, winning Community Housing Cymru’s Pat Chown award for housing innovation.

The project started out with research, looking into shared housing best practice, what worked and what didn’t.

But it has not all been plain sailing, there have been a few learning curves along the way.

And as Hazell Davies, Rooms4U project officer, says, “we are very happy to talk about the failures. That is how we, and others, learn.”

Her colleague, Emma Rowlands, explains some of the challenges Newydd has faced during the early stages of the project: “Shared housing needs intensive housing management.

“Our impression was that I would do the matching and allocation and then completely walk away, allowing the housing officer to do the management.

“However, it needs to be a much more intense approach. You can’t wait for issues just to come up, you must be constantly reviewing this and speaking to the tenants. They need regular visits so they know there is a specific way to behave.

“I don’t think anyone can set up a shared housing scheme and not have a dedicated member of staff managing them.”

The initial matching process has also been something Newydd and the Rooms4U team have grappled with.

When they initially started the project, the tenants were almost paired together through priority. But after some issues with anti-social behaviour and police activity, Newydd realised it needed to make some changes to the matching process.

Tenants are now not only placed through priority need, but also on a suitability basis.

“The process starts with a bit of an interview where we look at what they are like and their background,” says Hazel.

“Everything that matters about sharing with someone, whether it is smoking, drinking, doing the dishes, we will ask. If we think people are just telling us what we want to hear then we will delve deeper to try and get the truth out of them.

“We also do a risk assessment. We then put out an advert for expression of interest, so it is not just on priority. We look at suitability and priority at the same time.

“We are finding that we are looking further down the priority list to find a suitable match. That is more important to us and the programme. It is good we have that flexibility within the programme.”

Newydd has provided a mixture of properties, some with smaller rooms transformed into living spaces and others being a new-build two-bed development.

But the programme is not just about providing a home, the services that come with the property are just as important, if not more so.

It works closely with the Supporting People programme, which does a lot of the support work. But Newydd also provides financial inclusion, digital inclusion and many other pre-tenancy training sessions.

This can be anything from paying bills to what their responsibilities are living independently.

This equips them to be able to leave the house, after six months of stable employment, and into a one-bed home.

Hazel says this is beneficial for the future of Newydd too: “It now means we are confident that when we put a tenant in a one-bed, they are going to be able to sustain it and live independently.

“If they went through other routes they may have been in rent arrears, doing anti-social behaviour and the housing officers wouldn’t have the capacity to deal with that so they would be evicted. Whereas if they go through shared, there is a lot more support in place.”

The project has already significantly benefited tenants lives in the area.

Two of the tenants have gone to university, a few into full-time employment and one now heading into their own self-contained one-bed home.

But Hazel said the impact has been much wider: “The impact it has had on tenants’ mental health, somewhere safe and secure to live, has probably been the biggest impact.

“From having a variety of mental health needs, sofa surfing or street homeless to six months later seeing them going off to college, feeling safe and having built friendships, that is probably the biggest impact.”

But the continued success of the project relies on one thing: funding.

The Crisis funding runs out in October, with the housing associations and their council partner having to come together to find a way of continuing the project.

There is interest from Welsh Government, which has attended shared housing working groups to explore the issues.

Hazel rounds up by saying that Welsh Government should really be looking at this option: “It is unacceptable to have a scenario where there is no realistic options for a whole generation.”

Rachel Honey-Jones, Newydd’s community regeneration manager, says unless something more is done “we are going to have a forgotten generation of under-35s on the streets.”

And that is the stark reality of the situation for these young people. If they are not housed and supported, the problems for both themselves and the communities they live in only become more severe.