How will 2023 be remembered when people think about their homes and neighbourhoods? What’s happened in the last year that will have lasting effects on whether Londoners and those on low incomes have a stable place they can call home? And what have we been doing about it?
The housing crisis in 2023
London is at the centre of the nation’s housing crisis. This year, it’s been characterised by worsening news, sobering statistics and missed opportunities. By mid-year, one in every 50 Londoners was homeless in temporary accommodation (TA), and the equivalent of one child in every classroom.
Economic uncertainty and over-reliance on volatile developer funding slowed the delivery of new affordable homes. Government policy towards benefit claimants, refugees and asylum seekers worsened homelessness pressures, at a time when Londoners were already buffeted by the cost-of-living crisis. And delays to the Renters Reform Bill (now in parliament but with the all-important end to Section 21 delayed indefinitely) meant escalating numbers of evictions were not prevented. In this environment our role has been to support affected people to speak up, fund and facilitate the building of alliances, and strengthen the fact base people can use.
By mid-year, one in every 50 Londoners was homeless in temporary accommodation (TA), and the equivalent of one child in every classroom.
Our focus on temporary accommodation
This year, alleviating the crisis in TA has taken up a lot of our headspace. 170,000 Londoners are living homeless and living in TA. Shelter’s Still Living in Limbo research, published in March, gave a representative national picture of the problem as it's experienced by people living there. The findings were shocking: hundreds of thousands of homeless people living in dangerous, unfit conditions, families living in temporary accommodation for years, and deteriorating health and wellbeing.
Later in the year we welcomed research from Groundswell and London Gypsies and Travellers, which reflected these findings at a more local level, highlighting how TA impacts different communities. In September’s Better TA showcase and accompanying event summary and short film, we profiled the work of our funded partners and brought together people from across sectors in solidarity. Our shared aim was to make stays in TA as short, safe and healthy as possible.
The current situation in TA came about as a result of policy choices, which can be made differently.
The July joint letter to the Secretary of State from the London Housing Panel (LHP), Deputy Mayor Tom Copley, joint heads of the London Housing Directors Group of senior local authority staff, and over 100 other individuals and organisations, has received a response from Minister for Homelessness Felicity Buchan MP. The panel TA working group is preparing their next steps. And in November, it was encouraging to see the voluntary sector, London and local governments speaking with one voice at the London Assembly hearing on the value of working together to influence central Government, and of improving people’s experiences of approaching local authorities for help when homeless (info around 1:45:23 onwards in the recording).
The current situation in TA came about as a result of policy choices, which can be made differently. To get there, we need benefit levels to immediately be raised to a level that will mean people can afford a stable home. We need the Government to commit to build social housing. And we need national regulation and enforcement of quality standards.
Tackling the underlying issues
The privilege of being an endowed foundation is that we're also able to look upstream, at causes and underlying issues. We partnered with London Councils, Capital Letters and the London Housing Directors in June to fund to fund research by Savill’s and LSE into supply in London’s Private Rented Sector, which found a 41% reduction in the number of London properties available for private rent since the Covid-19 pandemic.
..research by Savill’s and LSE into supply in London’s Private Rented Sector, found a 41% reduction in the number of London properties available for private rent since the Covid-19 pandemic.
We renewed our funding for several key advice and advocacy organisations to assist people in knowing and campaigning on their rights, as well as scrutinising the shadow private rented sector. And we collaborated with three other funders, who collectively have funded £20m of work to improve housing over three years, to advocate on and monitor the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, with a focus on the Infrastructure Levy which will govern developers’ contributions to affordable housing.
Building the voice of Londoners affected by the crisis
Voice has been an important wider theme in our partners’ work, building on our funding for groups work to ensure that residents can have a say in what happens to their estates and communities. Most notably through Planning Aid for London, and supporting the planning work of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). An exciting pillar of this was the collaboration between the LHP and the GLA’s Planning for London team, to co-design a series of community led conversations bringing the perspectives of people who are insecurely housed into early discussions for the next London Plan. 92 people took part and early findings have been shared on the GLA website. A follow-up report is in the works for early 2023. The big themes included safety, accessibility and need for suitable homes throughout the entire course of our life.
Funders benefit from extraordinary networks and relationships with frontline organisations and activists who are building alliances for change. This is particularly important when planning what to fund in future. This summer saw the ‘Deep Dives’ stage of the Trust’s strategy review, interviewing around 20 individuals and organisations to gain their perspective on what might be needed if we're to achieve the goal of all Londoners having stable homes by 2040. We are excited about future opportunities to fund and collaborate, figuring out what this means in terms of grant-making practice in the New Year, before we go public in the spring.
Our thoughts are with everyone who will be working, or living, at the sharp end of this crisis over the festive period. We wish everyone who celebrates a warm and safe Christmas, and that we'll return refreshed and ready to keep trying to fix this broken system in the New Year.