New London Architecture

Five minutes...with Josie Parsons, CEO, Local Space

Monday 27 September 2021

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hi Josie. Thanks for sparing me some time. I wondered if you could first possibly just briefly outline what exactly Local Space does - it's history and its challenges.
 
Josie Parsons  
Yes, I'm happy to do that. So, Local Space is a housing association. It's a regulated provider of social housing, a registered provider as they are known. But we work in a slightly different way than typical housing associations, because we work very much in partnership with local authorities in the areas that we work in: east London and northeast London. We provide temporary accommodation - we say 'settled accommodation', because temporary doesn't necessarily always mean what you think it does. And I'll come to that in a minute. So, we provide good quality accommodation from a regulated landlord. We are bound by regulations so there are standards that we need to meet. And we take nominations from our local authority partners from their homeless register, not their housing register, and that's an important difference. The people who come into our homes are homeless, and they may be homeless for lots of different reasons. They're mainly families that we house, and we acquire properties from the open market, we refurbish them into an as-new state and we provide our accommodation with carpets and curtains and white goods in the kitchen, which isn't typical of housing associations.
 
David Taylor  
So how bad - if I can put it that way - is the issue of homelessness that you're seeing? And perhaps how has that changed, if it has, over the last, say, five years?
 
Josie Parsons  
It has changed. One of the key areas that we work in is the London borough of Newham, which has 26,000 families on their housing register. So, the need is huge. And that's just one local authority. Across London, there are estimated to be 60,000 homeless families: it’s massive. And of course, for every family, that means their children, as well. Now, local authorities have a number of options as to how they house people who are homeless. They can house them in the short term, in bed and breakfast accommodation, or in nightly-let accommodation. And that's fine for a couple of nights. But it's very difficult for a family to be able to exist in that kind of accommodation for anything other than the very, very short term. If you can imagine, you've got children of school age and trying to get them to do their homework, and everybody's living in a room - in a hotel room. Another option that local authorities have is to house homeless families in the private sector, and a lot of them do this. There's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the private sector is not regulated. And so, the quality, the standard of accommodation is very variable. Some of it is fine, of course. And there are some really good landlords out there. But there are also some really poor-quality homes, and really appalling landlords who don't do repairs and maintenance on their properties. And so there are properties that are in that very poor state. And that is a real issue. What we offer is a more cost-effective alternative than any of those options, that is more settled. So it doesn't cost as much for the local authority to house people in our homes and what they get is something that's significantly better in terms of quality, and very clear in terms of quality, and also much better from the point of view of the settled nature of the accommodation. Although we do evict families from time to time it's quite rare. And it would only be in circumstances where they have breached the terms of their tenancy.
 
David Taylor  
Wow So why isn't your model being adopted elsewhere across the capital? 
 
Josie Parsons  
That's a good question. I don't know the answer to that fully. But what I can say is that one of the things that started Local Space off in its infancy in 2006, is that the London Borough of Newham gave, by way of a grant, a small portfolio of property to Local Space. And it was that was a germ that local space was able to then use to expand its operation, and to acquire more property. We now have almost 3000 homes in total, from an initial grant of 450. So that's one thing that's distinct and different. But of course, our growth now isn't on the same basis at all. And whereas some of our portfolio growth has been with the help of Right to Buy receipts from local authority partners, a lot of it hasn't. A lot of it has been utilizing the value in our existing portfolio to leverage in debt from the private sector to allow us to grow and to acquire more properties. So it's a very good question. I think one of the things that's interesting about our model is the partnership working aspect of it, specifically. That's something that we value hugely. And it's really important to us. It's also really important to our local authority partners. But not all housing associations work in quite that way with local authorities. They'll often take nominations from local authorities, but they don't very often have long-term partnering arrangements, like we have. So, our typical partnering arrangement might be a short term of 15 years in duration, but it also might be 30 years. So, we have very long-term relationships. And really, you know, a good history and good track record of working with our partners. I think that's one of the areas that is distinct and different about us, and not typical of housing associations in the main.
 
 
David Taylor  
Could you tell me about the hidden homeless aspect of what you do?
 
Josie Parsons  
Sure. The typical view of homeless people is on people who are sleeping rough on the streets, and that is one homelessness, but it's not the only type of people that we have, by and large, our families. They're not going to be sleeping rough in that way. But they may be sofa surfing, they may have been evicted, they might be living in their car - you'd be surprised how common that is. And that's what we call the hidden homeless
 
David Taylor  
Really? Living in their cars? 
 
Josie Parsons  
Yes
 
David Taylor  
Wow. I mean, can you give me some data on that?
 
Josie Parsons  
I don't have any numbers for that, I'm afraid. 
 
David Taylor  
But in your experience?
 
Josie Parsons  
Certainly, you find a few of those every day and some of those people you wouldn't know that they're homeless because they still manage to hold down a job and to be you know, appropriately dressed for work and all of that sort of thing. But they don't have a home to go back to.
 
David Taylor  
God…
 
Josie Parsons  
I mean. It's better than being out in the open. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah, yeah. 
 
Josie Parsons  
But it's not ideal. And you know, if it was a family, can you imagine doing that with a family? I just can't.
 
David Taylor  
Shocking. 
 
Lastly, because we're coming up to time, to what degree do you feel personally, a sense of joy and warmth at what you do? And to what degree do you feel a sense of despair at the broader issue?
 
Josie Parsons  
I think I'm really proud of what we do. I think we make a real difference in the lives of the families that we house, and I'm really pleased that we're able to do that, and that we're able to continue to do that. And to, over a period of time, house more and more families. So very proud of that. It's a shame that it's necessary, but we're in a housing crisis situation. So, you know, in a housing crisis, it's all hands to the pump, isn't it? And we do whatever we can to help our local authority partners to house the people who are in the most need.
 
David Taylor  
Well, thank you for doing what you do, and congratulations for what you're doing. And keep doing it!
 
Josie Parsons  
Thank you very much. It's been really nice to talk to you.
 
David Taylor  
And you. 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


Housing

#NLAHousing


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