Open Letter to Grant Shapps from Farah Damji

by Farah Damji

13:08 PM, 27th March 2012
About 9 years ago

Open Letter to Grant Shapps from Farah Damji

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Open Letter to Grant Shapps from Farah Damji

*Property118 is not in any way aligned with Kazuri nor Farah Damji, but we believe questions should be raised about the funding being poured into Shelter and Crisis to work with private landlords when they have done and continue to do so much to damage the reputation of the Private Rented Sector. We believe this matter is of interest to all landlords and we thought it was worth bringing to your attention the actions which Ms. Damji is taking to block this allocation of public funds.*
*A response from Crisis to the content of this open letter has been published in full in the comments below.*

Dear Mr Shapps,

I write in dismay about the additional funding being given to charities such as Crisis and Shelter next month to “help end homelessness” in the private rented sector (PRS). This is referred hereto on the Crisis PRS website:

The Crisis PRS Access Development Programme funds new community based services that help single homeless people find and sustain good quality accommodation in the private rented sector (PRS). It builds on Crisis’ history and expertise in PRS solutions to homelessness and represents an investment of over £10m of DCLG funding over a three year period.

There is no independent monitoring or evaluation of outcomes or sustainability in what Crisis and Shelter are doing. I know of cases in which dozens of tenancies have not been maintained because support was not there for tenants being placed through the scheme, and in others when quite manageable performance targets were reduced by 75% because charities who had been given this funding could not access private landlords, whom they have to engage in order to get people into properties. Once a person has been offered a property through the PRS they are removed from the Local Authority’s Housing List and are no longer able to access it, therefore if they cannot maintain the tenancy they are homeless again without recourse to the Local Authority or indeed the charity funded by these hare-brained schemes. One I know, Vision Housing, claims to house ex-offenders and has been granted £50,000. The owner then insists the tenant also gets a crisis loan from the DWP to pay a “referral fee,” thereby poverty pimping off the most needy and destitute. I am an ex-offender, I have gone through the ridiculous process of trying to access suitable housing and that this is not acceptable, you cannot seek to profit through other people’s desperation. It’s worse than loan sharking or doorstep payday loans which at least are in the process of being regulated.

I attach a schedule of Kazuri’s outcomes up to November 2011 so you can see the model works. Not one woman has been sent back to prison, been convicted of a new offence or gone back to a violent relationship and we are now expanding the provision to assist Local Authorities move men and women off the Housing Lists, and those out of prison and from Accident and Emergency wards into sustained housing.

This has been good for Kazuri, when charities who have been funded through the Crisis grants have not been able to access landlords, not even through letting agencies, they have approached us and paid referral fees. Ours is not a leaky charity bucket model which breeds dis-empowerment, we are a social enterprise with a triple bottom line, human, social and financial return on investment. Our tenancy agreements actually state the tenant must partake in employment, education and/or training, do a minimum of 5 hours of volunteer work in a recognized project for the benefit of the community to help restore the broken social bond and work with a mentor. We undertake monthly tenancy checks and support our tenants to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. This is not the model to which charities who have been rinsing Supporting People budgets for years work. They are being paid through Supporting People budgets to keep people on benefits dis-empowered and dependent on Local Housing Allowance. Rather like characters from a Dickens novel, they are paid to retain a substrata of society to stay within the culture of entitlement which is no longer affordable to our society. Sadly in this case, truth is stranger than fiction.

Crisis and Shelter fund charities who cannot compete in the highly competitive PRS and, whilst there are undoubtedly pockets of good practice, they are not given any outcomes which they have to attain by Central Government. This is free money, literally for nothing except to manage their own top heavy bureaucratic structures. This is far removed from this Government’s move away from non-performance and moving towards rewarding success rather than stagnation through the payments by results models. I am greatly concerned at the lengths to which Crisis and Shelter attempt to demonize and indeed criminalize all landlords with their recent Rogue Landlords campaign and by the flyer attached herewith, which I picked up in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket.

The sector has long called for regulation and good landlords- which are the vast majority- do not condone nor participate in the illegal activities of a few rogue landlords who are common criminals benefiting from the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Indeed one of the most respected landlord’s organizations has just started a petition asking the Government to bring in mandatory licensing of lettings agencies. This should be supported and applauded. I ask where the funding is coming from for the film that Shelter has commissioned and whether this has been sanctioned by Government. Surely it is in everyone’s interest to work with the landlords who are the gateway to the private rented sector, not disgust and alienate them completely. Why then would they encourage name-calling and hostility towards those people who must engage in the process of providing shelter? When private landlords see campaigns based on bullying, they cease to offer their properties up to the PRS. Let’s face it, who hasn’t been burnt by private rented sector “incentives” run by Local Authorities? Tower Hamlets and Brighton councils are now planning to run their own social lettings agencies. With the amount of bad feeling and arrears they generate and the rush to remove risk and responsibility to the private sector, these schemes are doomed to fail and I will be there lighting the funeral pyre when they implode and Heads of Housing are asked why they didn’t act in cooperation with landlords rather than trying to change the sector to fit public sector preconceptions, backwards momentum and rigidity.

The voluntary sector cannot take on the risk or the responsibility as pointed out by Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recently when discussing the failure of the Government’s much touted Work Programme. There is no transparency in the process around which funds are decanted to Crisis or to Shelter and no transparency either in the way these funds are given the charities who benefit or to the tenants they are supposedly placing in tenancies.

Until the complete and audited evaluation of the current funding schemes in place and a report is published concerning what has actually been achieved in the way of sustained (longer than 6 months) tenancies and other outcomes, such as lessened benefits and journey travelled towards employment or education, I must ask that this next round of funding is suspended. There is no case to be made for simply passing money on to charities who do NOT help homeless people and who have never built a building or been a landlord. Based on the Housing First model which Kazuri has successfully deployed, there is no point offering jewellery making classes- as do Crisis in their lovely building located in a prime location and is expensively staffed- for people to get into work as they cannot work if they have nowhere to live. The voluntary sector cannot sustain the risk of the responsibility to engage the PRS in this manner. Shelter and Crisis are good at academia, policy and research, let them raise and generate funding for that and not pretend to be tinkering round actually putting people into long term homes, which is the heart of the problem.

Kazuri is in the process of compiling a response along with some of the largest landlord organizations and regulatory bodies, developers, builders, town planners, property lawyers and housing specialists as well as institutional investors and high street banks to Sir Adrian Montague’s call for consultation asking why the private and institutional investor will not engage in the private rented sector. I would urge you to wait until the evaluations of Sir Adrian’s findings before funding anymore “charity” private rented sector schemes.

I hope to hear from you as a matter of urgency. I am considering having the funding issue brought forward to the Public Accounts Committee and will seek Judicial Review about the process as to how the funding has been allocated. I trust this will not be necessary.

Kind regards
Farah Damji
Director of Development
Kazuri Properties Ltd

*A response from Crisis to the content of this open letter has been published in full in the comments below. Click here to read.*


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Comments

8:08 AM, 29th March 2012
About 9 years ago

very thought provoking.

14:16 PM, 3rd April 2012
About 9 years ago

It was disappointing to read Farah Damji’s allegations against Crisis published on this website – the latest in a series of online criticisms of our work from Ms Damji which Crisis believes are unfounded and greatly detract from vital work going on up and down the country to support community based organisations in working effectively with their local landlords to support and sustain homeless people into tenancies in the private rented sector (PRS).

Ms Damji’s article comprises a number of misunderstandings about the highly successful and innovative funding programme which Crisis runs on behalf of the Government (DCLG). The PRS Access Development Programme has been developed as a response to the challenges presented by the private rented sector in housing single homeless people – in both finding suitable properties and willing landlords and in sustaining independent tenancies.

After just one year of operation the Programme’s initial 49 schemes have already housed 1,380 people and 79% of tenancies are being sustained beyond the minimum initial six month period. Including a second round of schemes which are just commencing work, Crisis has now funded 122 schemes and the aim is to house around 8,000 people in total over three years. Of course, against a picture of homelessness increasing and benefits being cut there is much more to be done, but this Programme is already making a real difference by setting up responsive local services, and by demonstrating what can be achieved by forward-thinking voluntary sector agencies working collaboratively with good landlords and committed local authorities.

We have long argued that the Government and local authorities need to take a much more strategic approach to the PRS, encouraging it to grow and using the existing regulatory framework effectively. Through this funding stream though, Crisis is making the most of the existing situation by targeting resources on ensuring that there are individual members of staff on the ground to work constructively with landlords, rather than seeing this funding lost in the general pot of local authority funding.

Crisis has long operated all across the UK, and the schemes funded under this Programme are distributed right across England, prioritising areas of high need which did not previously have any services for single homeless people. For these people the Programme has provided crucial support with both finding and keeping a home. The vast majority of the money Crisis receives from Government is paid out again directly to community organisations but Crisis does also provide active support before the application process and for all schemes to ensure that they learn from the best practice to overcome issues.

Crisis does not dictate the model by which PRS access schemes should be run. The PRS is a market and differing local markets require different approaches. A central plank of all the schemes funded though is their ability to work effectively with landlords, in fact the funding is spent almost entirely on the salary for a staff member to liaise with landlords, as landlords report that this personal service is decisive for them when considering letting to people on housing benefit and people who are homeless.  Crisis helps community-based schemes to develop a viable housing model and sets targets tailored to both local conditions and the particular client group concerned.

The PRS Programme runs on a payment-by-results model, through which individual schemes receive an initial proportion of their funding and a final instalment upon reaching their targets. Crisis is proud of having developed a particularly un-bureaucratic funding process which is thoroughly robust and independently audited. Scheme are eligible for a second year of funding if they make positive progress towards achieving the targets set, and we provide help with finding replacement funding or means of income generation to ensure that schemes are sustainable in the longer term. Crisis prides itself on being a supportive and active funder, and continually seeks out and disseminates examples of excellent practice in the sector.

The PRS Access Development Programme contributes to a wealth of online expertise on the private rented sector which Crisis has compiled since starting work in this area back in 1997. Alongside the PRS Programme Crisis runs its own services helping homeless people find and sustain properties in the PRS and produces and disseminates a range of best practice material for local authorities, schemes and landlords themselves available on our website http://www.privaterentedsector.org.uk. For example Crisis recently issued the Young People and the PRS toolkit which gives practical support to anyone wishing to support those under 25 in the PRS, and how to support and reassure their potential landlords.

The Crisis PRS Programme was conceived of in conjunction with DCLG and includes as a partner the National Landlords Association. It supports both tenants and landlords through community housing schemes which are tailored to local housing markets. The process of application and selection is open, it is audited and it is set out clearly in the publicly available information on our website. Crisis already runs two public rounds of funding from which schemes were selected by the selection panel, made up of DCLG, the Ministry of Justice, Homeless Link and the National Landlords Association. Crisis will run a further round of funding this summer and look forward to supporting many thousands more single homeless people into privately rented homes through our work.

Sarah Mitchell
Head of Private Renting, Crisis

Glenn Ackroyd

7:56 AM, 5th April 2012
About 9 years ago

Our sister company, aquicksale.com has raised and donated in excess of  £100k to Crisis over the years thanks to kind generosity of our franchisees. The reason we choose them because we went and saw what they were doing locally. Providing Bond support to vulnerable tenants, housing packs for those people that literally only have the clothes they are wearing as possessions. They also run training and skills centres.

I've met with their staff who, unlike other homeless, actually work with, rather than against landlords. They've attended local landlord meetings, forums etc and engaged, understood concerns and acted as a mediator between landlord and tenant.

We had the privilege of having them attend at one of our conferences. A tenant who they had helped provided a very moving story how they had helped him and changed his life.

So whilst i am VERY critical of certain housing charities, I think people should visit Crisis and see for themselves the reality. You will find hard working, very committed people and it will restore your faith in human nature

8:50 AM, 5th April 2012
About 9 years ago

The National Landlords Association (NLA) is proud to
support the Crisis PRS Access Development Programme and pleased to have been
invited to sit on the Panel which supports this scheme for the past two years.
The purpose of the panel is to independently assess applications which have
previously met strict criteria and the range of assessors invited to contribute
ensures that each application is fairly considered.

 

Our representatives specially look for active communication
between the applicant and appropriate local landlords to ensure that healthy
tenancies are created and sustained. It is also important to ensure that
on-going support is provided to the tenant.

 

The NLA is the largest organisation representing
private-residential landlords, we believe that the private-rented sector can
provide much-needed housing for a range of different people and will continue
to support Crisis in their efforts to end homelessness.

12:32 PM, 5th April 2012
About 9 years ago

We purchased a 20 bed HMO in 2004 in the private rented sector for local vulnerable people, recovering drug addition, ex-cons and the homeless.

Since 2006 we have battled with the local Housing benefit offices over LHA rules having to prove every single Tenant is vulnerable to secure the rent payments.
When this is done they allow Tenants to change address without proper notice to vacate and two weeks later they advise me the rent has been cancelled.
I have rquested many times they ask the Tenant for a clearance letter from the Landlord which would controll this movement without notice. The reply each time is not their problem.
Between the LHA and no vacating notice we have lost around £ 20,000.00 since 2006 in so much as we cannot continue to support the Homeless and Vulnerable as we set up to do.

Regards

John Clark
Landlord Gloucester.

14:36 PM, 5th April 2012
About 9 years ago

 I am afraid this just shows you the arrogance of these council housing depts, who seem to think they are doing you a favour in providing tenants.
And if the tenancy claim changes they seem to think the LL is last on the list to notify and so what if the LL loses money, it doesn't affect them.
Well actually if they looked at the bigger picture it does.
Due to the contempt that most council housing depts have for PRS LL more of these LL will withdraw from the LHA market meaning that councils will be paying out more for TRA.
It would make sense for the council housing dept to inform the LL if there is due to be ANY change in the tenant's circumstances so that the LL may sort out the occupancy status of that accommodation.
Possibly housing another LHA claimant which helps the council out.
Until these arrogant housing depts change their attitude and recognise they need a LL on their side, more and more LL will desert the LHA market leaving councils with a more expensive problem for housing their homeless.
The arrogant attitude extends to LHA not passed onto a LL which councils say is between you and the tenant.
Such a response just causes a LL to determine to evict that tenant leaving the council with a housing problem
Hopefully UC will solve this little problem.

12:10 PM, 9th April 2012
About 9 years ago

I am delighted to read both the NLA and National Property Group's responses and support of Crisis PRS. How many of your members have actually enagaged and rented to clients through Crisis funded organisations? How many of these tenancies if any, have been sustained beyond 6 months?
All very lovely that you have been invited to sit on the panel deciding the allocation of grants , what are you doing to educate and inform your members about changing their views on tenants on LHA?

No one is denying or criticising Crisis / Shelters' roles as extremely  important in research and providing a policy framework, but the anti-landlord tactics used, the lack of transparency and  the arrogance with whcih they try and alienate scores of landlords through the bullying nasty and plain oaffish "rogue landlords" campaigns do nothing to add to their case that they are about "ending homelessness." I know and have experienced first hand through our clients, single people who are street homeless who have been told Crisis can do nothing for them,if are not physically lying down on the street, but do pop in and do a jewelry making class tomorrow poppet. Sitting on a park bench won't do, and then (maybe)  they call out the Local Authority's  Homelessness Team, sometimes many hours later.

I haven't misunderstood anything at all Sarah, I understand your  aims and objectives completely, they are not about ending homelessness, you are not able to do so as a campaigning body with an interesting agenda focused on creating  and supporting an unviable model going forward. your outcomes are disgraceful, if a local lettings agency or even a social lettings agency within a Local Authority were to boast about such impoverished outcomes, with no monitoring, evaluation or transperency, they would be laughed at. 

I have asked Mr Shapps, again,  to suspend this funding till the outcome of Sir Adrian Montague's review on investment into the private rented sector, I  am seeking Judicial Review to see it stopped and asking the PAC to look into how this has been allocated.  I have written t the Charities Commission and to your CEO to ask she refer this matter to your trustees immediately but have not had the courtesy of a response, just some disemenating e mails sent around to others by your Director of Policy about me, personally.

Assurances from the DCLG that Crisis outcomes are measured and reported against are not enough, I want to see an independent evaluation of exactly where the money is going, how many are rehoused and how much is spent on Crisis heavy admin and bureacratic costs, as a matter of urgency.

Don't shoot the messenger, realise the system is inherently flawed and your model of the leaky unsustainable charity bucket which breeds benefits dependency and disempowerment doesn't work and commit to doing things better, more professionally an with the support and backing of private landlords.


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