30 years on: Homeless people need our help more than ever

Andy Winter is celebrating 30 years with BHT (Brighton Housing Trust)
Andy Winter is celebrating 30 years with BHT (Brighton Housing Trust)

I saw an advert earlier this week that read “It’s a great time to become a landlord”.

I saw an advert earlier this week that read “It’s a great time to become a landlord”. It highlighted the fact that rents are up, the availability of buy-to-let mortgages, and the high demand for rental properties.

That advert illustrates much that is wrong with housing in our country; housing has increasingly become an investment opportunity rather than a place where people live.

The complete distortion of the housing market is the biggest change in the 30 years since I first started working for Brighton Housing Trust. Then there were a small number of people in acute housing need, usually with problems associated with mental health, alcohol, and occasionally drugs.

Now it is low- and middle-earners who are increasingly excluded from housing in Brighton and Hove. The average rent for a one-bed flat in the city is more than £850 a month. Less than 2% of rented homes in the private sector are affordable to people on benefits.

In Brighton and Hove, people living in private rented accommodation - one third of all households - pay 49% of their income on rent.

The housing crisis is the direct consequence of poor policy by governments of all colours. They have refused to reverse the disastrous and economically-illiterate decision taken in the 1980s to move away from public investment into the building of new homes. Social housing has increasingly relied on private finance, resulting in higher and higher rents. As a result, ever-increasing public funds are used to subsidise rents rather than build new homes, with very few extra homes being built.

The Right to Buy - and the betrayal by many of the larger housing associations, which increasingly don’t provide homes with social rents - is just exacerbating the affordability crisis. Of the homes sold through Right to Buy, 40% now rented out in the private rented sector at rents three or four times their former social rents.

Extending the Right to Buy will do nothing to improve this crisis. The promised one-for-one replacement of all homes sold through Right to Buy just isn’t a reality. Therefore, it will help only those who are already well-housed with a personal windfall and will take the sale of the good quality council houses to pay for it. That’s two social-rented homes lost with no guarantee of replacement.

The question that used to be asked was who will house the poor? The question today is who will house the poor, the middle income, your son, my daughter?

But my 30 years at BHT has seen many, many positive advances. Even though we have more people sleeping on the streets than ever before, BHT’s partnerships with other organisations have prevented twice as many men and women becoming street homeless.

Over the years, I have seen an increasing number of men and women move from poverty, exclusion, homelessness, mental ill health, and addictions into housing, improved health and wellbeing, recovery, education, training, and employment.

I am lucky to have the best job in Sussex, working with people in BHT who inspire me, and seeing positive changes in the life of our clients who remain the motivation behind our work. My only regret is that after 30 years the services offered by BHT are still needed, and needed more than ever.

Andy Winter is chief executive of (BHT) Brighton Housing Trust.