Rebuilding lives and cementing stronger communities are now vital functions of housing associations, says a new report spotlighting their value to tenants.
Debt management, budgeting skills training, housing and health information and digital literacy are some services social landlords cover in their widening job to support residents.
A friendly approach from frontline staff is what opens the door for residents to tap in to these services’ life-changing results, research reveals.
“This shows the vital role that housing associations play in the provision of support,” said Dr Emma Wainwright at Brunel University London.
“These services are of growing importance given recent welfare changes, notably the benefits cap and rollout of universal credit, which leave many social housing tenants feeling vulnerable.
“This highlights the positive impact housing associations have on tenants’ lives,” Dr Wainwright added. “And the importance of this in the current social and economic climate cannot be overestimated.
Researchers spoke to tenants at two London housing associations, A2Dominion and Catalyst Housing, to find out how they use and view such services. Chances to build knowledge and skills are highly prized, but better confidence and well-being are also major benefits, they found.
But making people aware such services are there and resourcing them well is still a challenge, said the study. This means bigger budgets, more staff, raising awareness and including different types of tenants, especially young people.
The kindness, compassion and personalised support from staff, however, shines out from the report. “In contrast to many other organisations tenants have been involved with,” it said, “they feel that the housing association ‘cares’.” One tenant who staff prevented from going back on the streets called the support ‘life-saving.’
With so many vulnerable tenants such as single mothers, older people, people with mental health issues, debts and addictions on the books, the difference a friendly, informed approach can make can be vast. “People underestimate how powerful it is for people to actually help you,” one resident said, “because before that, I was suicidal and just wanted to kill myself.”
Free and fun activities like ‘fish and chip Fridays’ are especially important to older and more isolated residents, researchers found. Another resident said “for me, apart from my grandkids, it’s the only contact with the outside world.”
Associations need to do more work to reach more people, the study makes clear, mentioning a ream of people that remain invisible. Although the fact that tenants want them to offer more services shows they are getting a lot right.
“This highlights the often hidden impact associations have in neighbourhoods and communities,” said A2Dominion’s Heather David. “Our support and advice alongside employment activities enable residents to maximise their benefits and earnings potential, compelling us to do more.”
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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