Social housing providers' work to prevent homelessness

Think piece, by Edit Lakatos, Housing Europe, 18/02/2022

Photo credit: Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Social and affordable housing providers across Europe deliver a wide range of services to tenants, together with local authorities and other service providers. Beyond housing, they offer supporting solutions to prevent evictions such as employment and training services, financial advice. In addition, they also often organise domiciliary care and support services for residents with specific needs, kindergartens and neighbourhood services.

A few concrete examples on their effort to prevent homelessness:

UK

The debt advice and legal assistance as the most effective measures in preventing tenant evictions.[1] For example, the Welsh Moneyline Cymru (my Home Finance model) provides credit and budget advice for tenants who cannot access credit from normal banks, so that they avoid borrowing money from ‘loan sharks’.[2]

Italy

ACER is a public agency managing social housing stock on behalf of the municipality of Reggio Emilia. They have recently launched a new system of integrated services called 'social management service', with an aim to support residents and increase their wellbeing, facilitating smooth relations in the buildings and neighbourhoods managed by ACER and creating a sense of belonging to the local community.

This includes a range of services like social mediation (aimed at making sure rules for living together are well respected and avoiding conflict among residents) and a system of allocation aimed at increasing social mix.

More recently as part of this broader ‘package’ ACER has set up services dedicated to families facing economic hardship. The agency identifies households going through difficult times and provides advice on managing the household budget and accessing available instruments for financial support, elaborates individualized schemes for payment of arrears, involves local social services when necessary.

Ireland

The Irish Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) resolves disputes cheaply and speedily between private rented sector landlords and tenants, including those related to legal and illegal evictions. It can award compensation for breaches of tenancy law, including illegal eviction. The PRTB website provides information in eight languages for tenants and landlords on obligations, legal procedures and standard/sample forms relating to evictions, as well as on its own complaint procedures.

Belgium

In Brussels there is a real problem with collecting rents, which creates a problem for maintenance of the buildings. Meeting with households to understand their problems is the best way to deal with this issue. In Wallonia, social housing organisations cannot refuse someone for being insolvent in the past because of the right to housing.

Germany, Netherlands and Sweden follow the same three steps system: checking the applicant, reacting immediately if rent is not paid (within 7 days will receive a letter), and then social workers might be called to intervene. Finally, what makes a difference is that companies do know their tenants quite well.

Denmark

FSH, a Danish housing association has an excellent practice making deals with residents regarding payment of rent before the residents get evicted. It employed three social- and economic counsellors for a two-year trial-period to provide thorough and detailed social- and economic advice to residents, who are either on the brink of being evicted from their dwelling or in danger of not being able to pay their rent in the future.

France

In France (USH), a so called ‘automatic debit’ system is also an option to prevent evictions which can be established at the moment of the contract signature.

To know more about the work of social housing providers' in prevention of homelessness, join us at the International Social Housing Festival 2022 in Helsinki where the Housing Solutions Platform will host a workshop on the relationship between housing policy strategy and the reality of social work, exploring in particular the new Danish homelessness strategy and Finland’s concept of “housing social work”. Save the date for this event: 15th June in Helsinki!

[1] Holl, van den Dries and Wolf (2015). [2] More info: http://markdrakeford.com/moneyline-cymru-a-great-success-story-says-am/