You know what they say – how time flies when you’re having fun trying to understand the health impacts of social enterprises in the housing sector. We’re nearly at the end of the first full year of the Housing through Social Enterprise project (Commonhealth Project 7), so we thought it would be a good time to provide a bit of an update. It’s been a busy year, but it’s only going to get busier…which is exciting, if a little daunting too.
What have we done so far?
Since we first outlined the project back in March, we’ve identified the three housing organisations who will be our partners in the research:
Homes for Good – a Glasgow-based social enterprise set up in 2013 as a not-for-profit letting agency, with the aim of supporting vulnerable households to access quality rented accommodation and sustain their tenancies. The organisation also has an investment arm, which is using social investment finance to buy and renovate properties, which it then rents out to people on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness and/or have a variety of other social needs. Unlike most letting agents, Homes for Good uses some of its income to provide a tenancy support service, helping tenants to deal with managing money, looking after their home, accessing specialist services, or whatever else is needed to help them sustain their tenancy.
Y People – a charity providing a range of support services to vulnerable people across Scotland. We will be working with two schemes run by Y People in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire, which provide a rent deposit guarantee for people who are at risk of homelessness, but are unable to access housing in the private rented sector because they have no savings for a deposit. The schemes provide support to tenants during the first year of their tenancy, helping them to maintain their tenancy and build up savings for the deposit.
NG Homes – a large, community-based housing association, which provides social housing for a substantial part of North Glasgow. As well as housing, NG Homes provides a range of regeneration and support services in partnership with other voluntary organisations, from money advice to community development. It also operates NG2, a subsidiary which provides training and employment for local people.
Through the spring and summer, we interviewed key staff from each organisation to clarify exactly how they work and to identify the different ways in which they may have an impact on their tenants’ lives. Crucially, we’re trying to understand the specific impact of these organisations as social enterprises and to develop new ways of measuring this impact. It might seem obvious enough that having a home is likely to make you feel better than not having one, but the question for this project is whether the involvement of social enterprises in providing housing delivers anything extra. Each of the organisations can be characterised as a social enterprise, but they exhibit their social-enterprisey-ness* in different ways, so looking at the three organisations should help us to understand what it is about being a trading, not-for-profit organisation with a clear social purpose that might deliver health and wellbeing benefits for various groups of tenants.
What have we found out?
To give some examples of interesting interim findings, three issues emerged from the staff interviews which we would like to explore further in our research with tenants:
- Tenancy support – all three organisations place a lot of emphasis on supporting tenants to sustain their tenancies, but they each approach it in different ways. We’re interested in the ways in which the organisations’ not-for-profit status may help with such support, enabling them to invest in services for tenants. And we also want to look at the ways in which the ‘social mission’ of each organisation filters down to frontline staff and tenants.
- Affordability – not surprisingly, affordability of housing came up time and time again when talking to staff of all three organisations. The diversity of the participant organisations across the social and private rented sector should help us to explore different ways in which not-for-profit organisations can tackle the challenges of housing affordability for low-income households.
- Neighbourhood and community – we all know that location is quite important in terms of how a house feels (isn’t there a TV programme which has something to do with location…?), but houses generally don’t move, so issues of neighbourhood and community can be thorny problems for housing organisations. Again, there are some interesting differences which arise from the different models of the three organisations involved in the research – we want to explore the ways in which their social missions play out in terms of community development or, in some circumstances, enabling tenants to choose their community.
We’re currently working on a full report of this scoping phase, which we’ll be publishing on the Commonhealth website early in 2017.
What are we going to do next?
Having worked out exactly how each organisation works and identified some of the key areas we want to explore through the research, we’re now starting to recruit tenants to the project. We’re hoping to find at least 30 new tenants from each organisation who would be willing to be interviewed two or three times over the first year of their tenancy, helping us to explore what changes happen in their health and wellbeing and what it is about their housing provider that makes a difference in their lives. If all goes to plan, we should be able to produce at least some initial findings in the second half of 2017, so keep watching this space…
Steve Rolfe, University of Stirling
Lisa Garnham, Glasgow Centre for Population Health
*social-enterprisey-ness is a new term we’ve invented to talk about the different ways in which organisations can be characterised as social enterprises, without delving into the heated debate about definitions of social enterprise. Some organisations may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in terms of the strength of their social mission, whilst others may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in the way they reinvest trading profits.