By Madeline Cross, Events and Communications Coordinator at the Rock Trust
What are the causes of homelessness? We ask again and again. We share evidence. We share reports. Some of the answers change, some stay the same.
For young people we know that family and relationship breakdown is the single biggest reason for homelessness, though it is rarely ever the only reason. Young people that come to us may be struggling with their mental health or with a learning disability. They may have had negative experiences of coming out as LGBTQ. They may have been abused.
None of the above factors should increase the risk of a young person becoming homeless. But addressing these known causes and working to prevent young people from ever becoming homeless, will not be possible if there is nowhere that those young people can afford to live.
The Edinburgh council recently cited the loss of private sector tenancies as a major cause of homelessness in the city (Local Government and Communities Committee Report on Homelessness)
The private rented market in Edinburgh is increasingly competitive and showing no signs of slowing down. This is a huge issue for many young people who we would not usually expect to be at risk of homelessness.
A shortage of affordable private rentals in Edinburgh, and the resultant competition to secure a tenancy has brought about an application style system being introduced. This system increasingly results in individuals on benefits and lower incomes being denied a home in favour of more ‘reliable’ tenants. It has also resulted in rents shooting up. Edinburgh is now thought to be the 3rd most expensive city to rent in the UK in terms of percentage of monthly income spent on rent.
I was recently trying to find a 1 bedroom flat to rent in Edinburgh for myself and my partner. Each time I rang up an Estate Agent to arrange a viewing, I was asked if we were both in employment and both earning more than £18,000 a year, as they would not rent to individuals earning less. On top of this, they would only allow me to view the properties at specific times, all during work hours, so that I had to take time off work to attend them.
The rent for the property we eventually secured was £170 more per month than it was in September 2016 when the previous tenants first moved in. No major improvements or changes to the property had been made in that time. We had to pay a deposit of over £900 to secure it, and supply references from previous landlords and my employer.
All I could think while making phone calls and securing my new home, was what if I was one of the young people we worked with – what would I do then?
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, leaving home for the first time with no savings, no family support and no landlord references, will struggle to access social or private housing even if they are in receipt of the income and/or benefits that would enable them to maintain a tenancy.
If they are allowed to view a property despite being on low incomes or in receipt of benefits, they will then face the mostly impossible task of paying a large deposit and providing references from landlords when they have no history of renting.
We all know that something has to be done about the shortage of affordable social and private rental properties in Edinburgh, but in the meantime the Rock Trust are working with a number of local landlords and Housing Associations to provide a solution to this very preventable cause of youth homelessness.
The Rent Deposit Scheme was set up in 2017 by End Youth Homelessness, funded by Yorkshire Building Society, to help young people gain access to the private rented sector. End Youth Homelessness is a movement of grassroots charities committed to working together at a local level to end youth homelessness. Rock Trust is one of these charities, and is delivering the Rent Deposit Scheme in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Since the end of last year we have been identifying 16-25 year olds we work with who could benefit from this scheme. They are young people who are in a position to move into the private rented sector and support themselves, but who need the initial practical help and advice to get them set up. Typically these are young people who don’t need the more intensive and long-term forms of support that we can also offer, but are still at risk of homelessness.
As well as helping these young people to find an appropriate and affordable tenancy, we help them by providing landlords with a guarantee certificate in place of a traditional cash deposit. This security bond (a formal agreement) protects the landlord from damage or rent arrears, while helping young people to secure a home.
In addition, the young people receive the advice and practical help they need to turn that property into a home and sustain the tenancy as long as it is required and wanted. The support available includes grants for essential home furnishings, support with claiming benefits and progressing in employment or education, and financial advice.
Since we launched this project we have engaged 25 Landlords, and have already successfully housed 3 young people. In 2018 we will be expanding the reach of this project further across Edinburgh and Glasgow, so that eventually we can say that no young person can be made homeless by such a simple, solvable problem.
If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the Rent Deposit Scheme, please email Tammy on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131 524 9870