‘Housing and mental health are directly linked.’ Old news.
‘Poor standards of housing can cause stress, anxiety and sleepless nights.’ Heard it before.
‘Housing association praises high quality properties, and says that tenants don’t want to leave.’ Groundbreaking.
Before landing a social housing unit on St Julian’s Road, Daniel, 53, was technically homeless. He had spent time sofa surfing and in other people’s homes before he was no longer able to pay to stay. Then he was kicked out. “The house I live in now makes me feel better,” said Daniel, “the person I was staying with before wasn’t a good person. If I didn’t have money to pay I wouldn’t be able to go out, and he wouldn’t be nice to me. And then he made me leave. That’s when I needed real help.”
After a turbulent time in previous properties, Daniel is now living independently for the first time since he arrived in the UK from Vietnam. His caseworker Olumbnmi (Olu) Akueme at Riverside works with single, homeless people to help them find affordable, and appropriate housing solutions.
Through her work housing vulnerable adults, she sees first hand the impact that poor quality housing has on people. Olu said: “The quality of a property can make a world of difference. I have seen properties time and time again which are damp and mouldy. Think about the impact that living somewhere like that has on someone’s physical health, let alone their mental health. I have seen the standard of property have hugely detrimental effects on physical and mental health.”
Olu was able to place Daniel in a property that was retrofitted and is managed by National Housing Group, and they were thrilled with the outcome, and both praised the standard of the housing unit and the property management. Olu has had a number of experiences with landlords who are often uncontactable, and can take weeks – or more – to provide essential maintenance or repairs. She said: “My customers are overjoyed with their new homes. National Housing Group are observant and proactive in their approach to property management, and always have first hand information about the wellbeing of my customers. Daniel even said to me ‘I will do anything to keep this tenancy!’ which goes to show the standard of these properties.”
Olu continued: “There are so many elements of a property that can affect a person’s mental health, making it hard for them to work or to maintain good health. Through good quality social housing, I have seen people go from homeless, to housed, to employed because they had the security of a roof over their head, and a place that was comfortable, well maintained and of a high standard.” According to mental health charity Mind, mental health and housing are interlinked and one can have a significant impact on the other. Poor mental health can make it difficult to manage housing problems, and issues with housing or housing of a poor quality can be very damaging to mental health. The cycle is vicious.
Stephen Wasserman is National Housing Group’s CEO. The Group aims to improve the standard of social housing, whilst directly tackling homelessness and the housing crisis. Stephen said: “Quality of life for some of our society’s most vulnerable adults is at the heart of everything that we do. Too many times we’ve seen the appalling living conditions that people in social housing are forced to endure, and to us, it simply isn’t acceptable. In properties like St Julian’s where Daniel lives, the tenants have often had difficult pasts, and they rely on their housing to help them find stability and move forward with their lives. Our way of working is to acquire properties, retrofit them to well above the government standards, and ensure that they are environmentally friendly and cost efficient for the tenants to run. It means a great deal to us that anyone living in one of our properties is happy, and their property well-maintained.”
Daniel expressed that he is so happy with his accommodation that he is hoping to refer one of his friends to Riverside, in the hope that they too can be housed in a National Housing Group property. “I am so happy with the company and the house itself. It is clean, everything is new and the communal areas are cleaned regularly and taken care of. Everyone I interact with is nice, and it makes me feel safe and secure compared to other places I have lived in my life. One of my friends is currently homeless, and going through a really difficult time, so I hope that he will be able to find housing that is as comfortable as this”, said Daniel.
The Mental Health Foundation, Mind and Shelter all delve into the detrimental effects that housing problems can have on people, with a report from Shelter showing that 1 in 5 people have suffered from mental health problems as a result of a housing issue. Mental health problems are reported to be more prevalent amongst the homeless community, which further illuminates the need for high quality housing solutions. According to the government’s most recent statistics on social housing, there are 4.4 million units of social stock owned by registered providers of social housing; but here enters the double edged sword. Side one, shows a reported general drop in the net social housing supply in the UK, which has shown a rise in the number of homeless people, or people in temporary accommodation. Side two, shows us the increasingly worse states of social housing around the country, which is causing mental and physical health problems to the country’s social tenants.
Stephen Wasserman said: “We know that there is a shortage of social housing, and more than that, social housing that is of a great quality. We are continuing to search for, acquire and retrofit properties around the country to combat this issue, improving standards of living wherever we can. We work in conjunction with local authorities, housing associations like Riverside, and charities to do the best that we can. This year we are planning on providing an additional 200 units of social housing to make a difference to more people like Daniel.”
Having seen the difference in tenants’ physical and mental health, Olu is on the lookout for more properties that deliver these high standards. “I have to help people whose circumstances have changed so much that they have to leave their current living arrangements, or become homeless. Their lives are hard, and often people’s mental health can be badly affected. People in need think that they don’t have a choice, and that they have to accept poor conditions, but this isn’t the case. People deserve a home.”
Daniel is hoping to find work now that he is settled in. He is using his new home to train, learn computer skills and ultimately become more employable as his physical and mental health continue to improve. Daniel concluded: “I would just like to express my gratitude. Everyone who supports me is quick to respond, and helps me straight away where they can. Everything has changed for me. I am so grateful to what I have been provided with, it has saved my life.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual involved.