A Scottish social enterprise letting agency is creating a roadmap for the private rented sector
Home is the foundation for all our lives. At Homes for Good, we believe everyone deserves a home where they feel safe and happy.
In the UK, approximately 19% of households sit within the private rented sector (PRS). This amounts to approximately 325,000 homes in Scotland and includes more people than live in housing association properties. Yet the PRS is fraught with challenges and has a poor reputation for quality, cost and even criminal practice. Landlords are often unfairly demonised in the press and a target for ever-increasing government intervention, although it is widely accepted that ‘problem’ landlords are a tiny minority.
The size and shape of the PRS in the UK has shifted dramatically in the last 15 years. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of households in the PRS in the UK increased from 2.8m in 2007 to 4.4m in 2022. Traditionally the home of students, young working professionals and people who rent as a lifestyle choice, it is now an essential part of the housing ecosystem, with people of all ages and income levels relying on a privately rented house or flat as their home.
In 2006, I became a private landlord in Glasgow, and for years I relied on local letting agents to look after my tenants and my portfolio. I grew increasingly frustrated with the poor practice I experienced and eventually decided to create the letting agency I needed and wanted: ethical, friendly, transparent, professional, values-led and with social aims at the heart of the business.
Homes for Good, the first of its kind social enterprise letting agency in the UK, was born in 2013. It grew organically, attracting landlords through word of mouth and professional networks, and we quickly caught the attention of the housing world at a regional and national level.
I then focused firmly on tackling what I saw as the biggest issues: social housing waiting lists and the dreadful quality at the lower end of the PRS. People on low incomes and in receipt of benefits have extremely limited housing choices – they will wait years for a housing association property to become available – leaving the PRS as their only option. Many landlords and letting agents simply do not want to rent properties to people on benefits, with a general perception of heightened risk around arrears and damage. Seeing there was both an acute social need and a unique business opportunity to address, I set out to create a housing portfolio of well-designed, high-quality, low-cost homes that would be affordable for people on low incomes.
We knew that reaching our goals to improve quality and management within the PRS and create access to quality homes for people on lower incomes would require significant investment, but with a viable business model and strong social impact, the case was compelling and the long search for backers began. In 2014, we created Homes for Good Investments, with venture capital and bank debt, using funds from social impact private and institutional investors. With an initial plan to raise £6m to create 100 homes in Glasgow, to date we have raised £20m and have created over 300 homes using a simple model: buy at the right price in the right place, renovate, interior design and furnish, then let to the people who need them. We plan to raise £20m to create a further 200 homes in Glasgow – the need is both endless and urgent.
Currently, over 450 people live in our homes, with over 90% on low incomes and receiving benefits to support their living costs. Around one-third of our tenants were homeless prior to living in our properties, around a quarter are young people in their first homes, and many of our tenants have additional support needs around mental health, addiction and disability. The Homes for Good model is also unique for our approach to building relationships with and supporting our tenants, whether young working professionals or elderly tenants on benefits. Our interior design programme, Love Home, engages with tenants who may be struggling with their home environment. All of this contributes to longer tenancies and tenants who feel safe and secure in their homes. As well as having deep social impact, it makes business sense.
As a now thriving social business group of four companies, our target is to grow to 1,000 homes under management by 2025 and to cause a ‘ripple effect’ in the PRS across the UK and beyond. Over the last three years, we have been supported by the National Lottery to work with interested people and organisations to disseminate our model and to replicate our approach in other UK towns and cities. In the context of rapidly increasing housing shortages across the social and private sectors, a quality, values-led approach to providing a place to call home has never been more critical.
Susan Aktemel is a social business leader dedicated to helping people change their lives, previously through Impact Arts and now as founder and Executive Director of Glasgow-based Homes for Good
This article first appeared in the RSA Journal Issue 4 2022.
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