How can Community Sponsorship Groups source affordable accommodation in the current housing crisis?

30 January 2020

Community Sponsorship Groups are required to source accommodation that a refugee family can live in for 2 years. In many parts of the country, finding accommodation that the refugee family will be able to afford when receiving Universal Credit is a real challenge. At Reset, we’ve been looking at how Groups source accommodation and what lessons other Groups can learn from them.

Community Sponsorship enables you to welcome refugees into your community. At Reset, we want to see communities all over the UK welcoming refugees. We know that the drive and commitment necessary to make this a reality exists all over the country. But what use is drive and commitment when we’re in the midst of a housing crisis? Simply put, how can you resettle a refugee family in your community if there’s nowhere for them to live?

Perhaps surprisingly, Community Sponsorship Groups are managing to find suitable housing even in the most expensive parts of the country, like London, Bristol and Oxford. At Reset, we decided to look into what types of housing these Groups have sourced and what rates of rent they have secured in order to put together some recommendations for other Groups that are struggling to find housing. In this blog, we’ve outlined our key findings and recommendations.

Sourcing accommodation

Every Community Sponsorship Group is required to source sustainable accommodation that will be available to a refugee family for at least 2 years.

So far, there doesn’t appear to be one ‘Community Sponsorship way’ of sourcing accommodation. Groups are working with private landlords and housing associations. They’re renting from churches and buying their own properties – either as individuals or as Group investment models. This speaks to the creativity of Groups in navigating a difficult market.

There are some key things to note about these findings. Firstly, the use of private landlords is the most common way of sourcing accommodation. Importantly, this is actually the case in 8 of the 10 regions for which we have data. By contrast, the second most common way of sourcing accommodation is the use of Housing Associations, but the use of Housing Associations is heavily concentrated in one region. Outside of this region, Groups have had little success in securing properties from Housing Associations. The key reason for this is simply the scale of the need for social housing in the UK. Housing Associations will typically have extremely long waiting lists of vulnerable people who all need a home. It’s not that they aren’t sympathetic to your cause, it’s simply that they can’t say yes to all the requests that come their way.

The next key thing to note is that it’s more common for private landlords not to be part of the Group than to be Group members. In roughly half of the cases where Group members are landlords, the accommodation was purchased specifically for the purposes of Community Sponsorship. Sometimes this relies on there being one wealthy individual within the Group, but Groups have also explored group investment models such as through Hope into Action.

Affording accommodation

One way that Groups tackle the issue of unaffordable housing is by ‘topping up’ the refugee family’s rent. At Reset, we’ve sometimes seen problems arise when Groups take this route in terms of setting the expectation for what a family will be able to afford when your Group is no longer topping up their rental payment (read our Top Up resource here) so we wanted to understand how often this is actually happening.

We found that around one third of Groups are topping up the rent, which means that two thirds of Groups have managed to find accommodation that the refugee family is able to afford from their Universal Credit payment each month.

We’ve already seen that using a private landlord is the most common way for Groups to source housing. It’s particularly important to note that even in this sector the majority of Groups are not paying top up. In fact, in the private rented sector in London more than 70% of Groups aren’t paying top up!  

It’s important to say here that Groups aren’t tapping into a secret stock of cheap housing. Nor are they sourcing housing that is of poor quality (the housing that volunteers source is checked by your local authority and the police before it is approved for a refugee family to move in). Rather, Groups are doing a very good job at finding landlords with a social conscience and convincing them to drop the rent for the refugee family for a period of two years. This is a really significant way that Groups can advocate for refugee families before they’ve even arrived in the UK.

Recommendations

  • If your Group is based in an area of high rent, do not dismiss the private rented sector immediately or assume that you’ll need to pay top up. You will need to approach landlords directly and make the case for housing refugees at affordable levels of rent. Groups are having considerable success in negotiating rents in the private sector down to Local Housing Allowance rates. Remember that you are advocating for people in need of housing – you aren’t being pushy or rude by asking for a reduction in rent. The landlord can always say no if they cannot afford a reduction. Read this blog from a landlord for a good understanding of what sort of issues the landlord could be keen to understand and read our guidance about how to work with landlords.
     
  • While it’s better to avoid paying top up, you should be pragmatic not dogmatic. There’s a big difference between paying £50/month top up and £500/month top up. If you live in an area of very high rent and you negotiate a reduction on a great property but will still need to pay a small amount of top up (e.g. £50/month), it may well be the right decision to take this property.
     
  • If you are paying a top up, follow our guidance on how to do this in a way that will make the rental amount affordable for the family in the long term should they wish to stay in the property
     
  • It’s worth approaching Housing Associations, but be respectful of the number of requests that they get daily from vulnerable people in need of housing. They may well support your cause but be unable to help.
     
  • And finally, remember that all of your work with a refugee family should be aimed at empowering them to live independently in the UK. Check out our guidance on adopting an empowerment approach to housing provision.

Request to participate in research

The more we know about how Groups are finding properties, the more we can share best practice to help other Groups. If you would like to help us build our knowledge, email us letting us know:

  • the type of property you found (e.g. is it in the private rented sector, owned by your local church…)
  • how you found it (e.g. through a friend, by leafletting…)
  • how long you spent looking for the property
  • whether you’re paying top up

How can Community Sponsorship Groups source affordable accommodation in the current housing crisis? is also published in Reset UK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Do you know someone who might be interested?

Email this page to them!