For many enmeshed in the fight against nationwide homelessness and rough sleeping, the private rental sector offers the potential for relief. The number of independent landlords and listings has skyrocketed in the past decade, providing ever-more chances for the housing-insecure to find four walls to call their own. The relationship between the private sector and decreased rates of homelessness seems clear; in theory, growth in the private residential sector should alleviate pressure on local councils and housing associations.
In practise, however, the private sector and the social housing sector rarely work so well together. While England’s private rental market encompasses more than four million homes and houses over eleven million people, access to non-social housing is far less than it should be for those struggling with homelessness. According to one Crisis study on housing access in the private sector, only 20% of surveyed landlords expressed willingness to rent to homeless candidates. The same investigation found that of homeless participants applying for residency, 72% of respondents were unable to secure tenancy as a result of their housing-insecure status.
For those already sleeping rough and facing housing insecurity, this is difficult enough; however, even those who have privately-rented lodgings aren’t always living securely. Data collected by the advocacy group Generation Rent suggests that approximately 216 households face eviction and potential homelessness every week in England. Roughly four in five of those evictions occur under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants after their initial rental period without providing a reason, regardless of whether the tenant has done anything wrong. Uncomfortably, the same study also found that 39% of private renters are unaware of their landlord’s right to evict them without reason.
For a tenant facing eviction from a private residence, the descent into housing insecurity happens quickly — often in the span of a few short months. Unable to find housing at an affordable price point, the former tenants find themselves sleeping rough. The stigma of being homeless follows them as they apply for housing; the search soon begins to feel fruitless.
The above scenario is hypothetical, but similar instances play out all too often in the real world. A full 41,000 repossessions occurred in England in 2015; 19,000 in the social housing sector, and a shocking 22,000 in the private rented sector. However, while tenants in social housing typically only face eviction after breaching tenancy rules or falling behind on rent, private landlords don’t need any evidence of wrongdoing to initiate removal proceedings — just the desire to do so. According to an English Housing Survey conducted in 2016, 63% of landlords evicted tenants because they wanted to sell or use the rental property.
All that said, I firmly believe that despite its current contributions to the homelessness epidemic, the private sector can contribute to the fight for secure housing if we can reassure landlords that signing a lease with a formerly homeless candidate is a good investment.
Right now, private landlords lack confidence. According to a recent study from the housing advocacy group Shelter, about 68% of landlords are hesitant to rent to homeless candidates because the housing benefits that would pay the lion’s share of rent would flow through the would-be renter, rather than coming directly into the landlord’s hands. In other words, they felt insecure about the tenant’s ability to pay. To make matters worse, a longstanding freeze on housing benefit allotments has allowed rent prices to surpass the amount programme recipients would receive to cover their rent and thereby lifted the chances of arrears.
These factors pose more than a little risk to landlords and real estate investors; from their perspective, it may seem safer to lease their properties to someone who hasn’t yet struggled with housing insecurity. Left unchecked, the private sector’s unwillingness to reach out of its comfort zone only stands to worsen the homelessness problem overall.
If we want to convince the private sector to join the fight against housing insecurity, rather than exacerbate it, we have to set landlords at ease. These overtures could take a number of forms: local housing authorities might develop relationships with private landlords and serve as facilitators between private landlords and homeless households, or help craft lease agreements that promise longer-term tenancies and cut down on turnover costs. Today, many authorities offer to set up a guarantee scheme or put down a rent deposit to convince private landlords to take a chance on a homeless applicant. In any case, the goal remains the same: to reassure that they won’t risk their investment by providing a rough sleeper with a place to call home.
The private rental section can be part of the solution rather than an exacerbating force in the homelessness dilemma; we need only convince the private sector to align its interests with the social sector’s priorities.
Up-and-coming entrepreneurs live their early careers in the spotlight. Their efforts are the centre of attention — when it comes to doling out advice, the metaphorical line of well-intentioned advisors who want to tell the beleaguered founder what they should do to attract and keep investors’ attention often seems to stretch on for miles. For aspiring investors, however, the situation is somewhat different. The entrepreneurial community’s close focus on the would-be founders can come at the — sometimes literal — expense of the person on the other side of the boardroom table in relative obscurity.
For all that shows like Dragon’s Den depict venture capitalists and angel investors as brutally honest and often dismissive business veterans, many of the apparent “dragons” in the investment field are almost as new to the game as the entrepreneurs they sit across. According to a joint report from the British Business Bank, IFF Research, and the UK Business Angels Association, around 17% of angel investors have under two years of experience in the field, while a full 44% have under five years. Like any other undertaking, investors need experience to thrive — and given that the average angel contributes between £10,000 – £500,000, the learning curve has the potential to be expensive.
Mistakes can be costly. Below, I’ve noted a few stumbles that every aspiring angel investor should avoid if at all possible.
Not Taking Proper Precautions
Investment can be financially and professionally rewarding — or it can turn into a disaster. As with any other financial endeavour, angel investing comes with a certain degree of risk; statistics provided by the UK Business Angels Association suggest that as many as 58% of angel deals leave the investor without profit — or even the stake money they had initially contributed.
Aspiring investors need to think strategically and do their due diligence to preserve their capital. The most effective way to mitigate the potential for loss is to diversify your portfolio effectively and ensure that your financial health isn’t dependent on the success of one or two of ventures in the same sector. Aspiring investors in the UK should also take advantage of the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), as both schemes are specifically designed to incentivize investment in smaller or higher-risk companies by offering tax relief. They certainly succeed in drawing in investors; one recent market report found that 86% of respondents said that they typically — if not always — use EIS or SEIS, while a notable 58% admitted that they would have invested “less or not at all” if the schemes weren’t in place.
Straying Beyond Your Expertise
Odd as it might seem, even years of experience as an entrepreneur won’t necessarily prepare you for a role as an angel investor. Former Dragon’s Den star and investment veteran James Caan puts the matter well in an article for the Financial Times: “What most people do is — because they have built up a business, sold it and made money — start to believe they can run any business.” Caan himself made this very mistake; he put money towards a venture in the tech sector and promptly took catastrophic losses because, as he says, he “knew nothing about the key drivers of the technology market.”
Up-and-coming investors need to stay within their realm of expertise — or partner with someone who has complementary experience.
Investors can sidestep the expertise boundary and mitigate their share of risk by joining an angel syndicate. Syndication is an increasingly popular option among angel investors; researchers at Deloitte estimate that around 73% of investors in the sector contribute in a collective. These groups collaborate to find better investment options, lessen their individual contributions, and benefit from a shared knowledge base. Syndicate investing is also an invaluable opportunity for newer investors, as it empowers aspiring angels to hone their skills and gain experience within a reduced-risk environment.
Unlike more distant venture capitalists, angel investors tend to work closely and personally with the entrepreneurs they support. The money these investors offer does, after all, stem from their personal funds — why wouldn’t they want to take a more active role in ensuring that the seed funding they provide helps that business grow?
However, misaligned expectations between entrepreneurs and investors can turn one-promising business relationships sour. A founder, for example, could seek out an angel investor for their hands-on advice and industry contacts — and quickly realise that the investor doesn’t have the time or inclination to help in the way the founder expected. Alternatively, an angel investor with a background in entrepreneurship, for example, might hope to provide strategic advice only to find that the founder doesn’t want their hands-on intervention.
The latter situation can become particularly awkward, as investors do tend to have more of a voice in a company’s strategic planning as they purchase more of its shares. It’s in an angel investor’s best interest to establish expectations early; if they don’t, they run the risk of trapping themselves in hostile and costly business relationships for years on end.
The learning curve for angel investors has the potential to be costly, stressful, and unrewarding — but it doesn’t have to be. With enough support and care, up-and-coming investors can collaborate with their peers and investees to gain experience without undue risk. Setbacks happen on the path to investment success — and while they tend to be costly, they are rarely impassible.
(Brooks Newmark at Umbano Primary School in Rwanda, a school that was built by Brooks' organization, A Partner in Education.)
When Brooks Newmark embarked on the very first Project Umubano trip to Kigali, Rwanda in 2007, he could never have anticipated the positive impact the journey would have on the next decade of his life.
The initial trip was organised by the Conservative party and brought together forty-three uniquely-qualified volunteers, each with their own specialties and experiences to share. All aimed to do what they could to share their professional expertise with their Rwandan hosts and increase access to the skills and resources needed to cultivate positive growth in the Kigali community.
Over the span of a few short days, the trip planted the first seeds of international partnerships in fields ranging from education to health to the private sector. Within the next few years, the number of volunteers burgeoned from a few dozen to well over a hundred, and the programme’s impact grew accordingly. Within five years, the group had refurbished a local school, began a youth football coaching programme, and launched a rural health clinic that would provide quality healthcare services to those who lacked easy access to medical care.
For Brooks, there was little more engaging than sparking positive change and seeing the good that Umubano project created firsthand; as one volunteer put it in a retrospective article on the project: “It is an experience that keeps people coming back every year to do more. I know for many of the old hands, there’s a sense of home when they arrive in Kigali.”
But for Brooks Newmark, nothing was so impactful as the school.
As a member of the first cohort of Umubano volunteers, Newmark had a hand in refurbishing the Girubuntu primary school for local children. The project was initially launched as a way to provide a better educational experience for eager young students — Newmark, however, had a more complex dream in mind. Inspired by the programme's work in Kigari, Brooks Newmark connected with fellow philanthropist Kitty Llewellyn; together, the two launched A Partner in Education, a charity dedicated to implementing high-quality education initiatives in Rwanda.
The pair's vision was ambitious. For Newmark and Llewellyn, it wasn't enough to merely polish a school; they wanted to create an educational space that could serve as a model of excellence, one that would both provide high-quality, inclusive education to children and offer supportive training environment for teachers. After years of work, Newmark and Llewellyn officially opened Girubuntu Primary School's doors to eager students, parents, and teachers. Rwandan president Paul Kagame attended the opening ceremony in 2011 and remarked that Girubuntu Primary School was not just an academic institution, but "a symbol of something much bigger — the strong relationship that exists between the people and the government of Rwanda and those of the UK."
Accomplishment aside, APIE was not ready to rest on its laurels. Newmark knew that the school could not support all of the students who wanted to attend, and so insisted on expanding the premises enough to accommodate all interested students comfortably. Once construction concluded in 2013, Girubuntu reopened as the Umubano Primary School — just in time to welcome a new class of 115 students and 13 teachers.
Over the next few years, the school grew into its potential as a model for academic excellence. Working hand-in-hand with APIE, administrators at Umubano Primary School developed an advanced teacher training strategy and forged partnerships with local, national, and international players who could provide expertise and practical support to local teachers. By 2016, the school had established a scholarship programme which would provide financial assistance to up to 30 children who might not otherwise be able to afford their education.
By 2016, the school had 242 enrolled pupils and had been formally recognised by the government as an exemplary educational centre; a year later, APIE had begun construction on a community centre to serve as a central hub for ICT, sports, and the arts. Looking ahead, APIE hopes that the school will become so self-sufficient as to enable APIE to scale back into the role of a supportive partner rather than that of a directing force.
Brooks Newmark remains on the Board of Trustees for APIE to this day and he has little doubt that APIE’s potential to enact positive change in Rwanda will continue to grow.
Growing up is hard enough when you don't need to worry about finding a place to shelter for the night. For young people without a stable home to fall back on for support and security, the experiences that other youths take for granted can seem painfully out of reach; without a permanent address, attending school becomes problematic - obtaining a job, nearly impossible. Fulfilling basic needs for food, clothing, and places to weather the night can be stressful enough as to drive young people into making risky choices in the slim hopes of finding warmth and sustenance.
Understanding the Problem
The issue we face today is significant. According to Centrepoint's Youth Homeless Database, well over 86,000 young people approach their local council for housing aid every year. Youth homelessness is a real and present problem in the UK today - and right now, we don't have the structures we need in place to resolve it.
Youth leave their homes for a myriad of reasons. Some move to escape domestic abuse or familial breakdown, while others hope that independence will help them break out of poverty or gain a better handle on their mental health conditions. Unfortunately, however, sleeping rough usually only worsens these concerns and leads to a decline in a person's psychological and physical health. A young person on the streets has no support system to help them deal with the constant dangers of street life, and no way to alleviate the anxiety that comes part and parcel with sleeping rough.
Moreover, most youth-centred policies in the UK operate on the assumption that young people will receive some financial support from their parents or guardians. As such, there is limited public programming for those under the age of twenty-five; even the national living wage is out of reach for those under the age cap. The current minimum wage for those between the ages of 21 and 24 comes to £7.38. For those under 18, this rate drops to £4.20; apprentices earn a mere £3.70 every hour. These rates aren't nearly enough to cover the monthly cost of rent, bills, and food. Ironically, the young people who strike out on their own to find a better, safer life have fewer resources and assistance options than the guardians they left might have had in their position.
Creating Holistic Solutions
Young people need stability. It isn't enough to place them back in their parents' homes, because shelter alone doesn't guarantee stability - odds are, the child will only run away again. Our aid programmes need to approach the issue of environment head-on by providing families with access to counselling services, offering parents avenues to better their housing or employment options, providing emergency accommodations as needed, and otherwise ensuring that all young people have the means to continue their studies and work with whatever support they might need. Ultimately, our end goal shouldn’t be to force the child back home if the environment isn't healthy, but to create a supportive network that provides them with the guidance and security they need to build a positive future. Resolving the issue is more than a little complex, but it can, ultimately, be done.
Right now, many communities only have reactive policies; that is, policies that can help youth after they have already experienced homelessness. Ideally, prevention strategies would be bridge reactivity and proactivity by empowering social workers to not only help young people find secure housing and prevent recurring homelessness but also identify and intervene in at-risk cases before an individual ever begins sleeping rough. If we can find a way to merge the holistic, long-term solutions described above with in-community aid for at-risk youth, we may stand a chance of battling back the youth homelessness epidemic in the UK.