LandAid’s, and the wider property industry’s, efforts to help solve youth homelessness and ensure that everyone has a safe and suitable place to call home have been ongoing for several decades, but have taken on a new urgency in the last few years.

Richard Rees

Richard Rees

The effects of Covid-19 have coalesced with a slowing economy, an endemic shortage of properties, a cost-of-living crisis and rising rents to form a perfect storm, which has emphasised the need for all to do more. The links between the lack of suitable housing and poverty, social inequality, crime and the rise of extremist politics are well documented. Failing to tackle this growing problem will mean the gulfs between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen, and the repercussions will be felt by everyone.

Between 2021 and 2022, 129,000 people aged 16 to 24 presented to their local authorities as homeless or at risk of homelessness. This stat will have only have risen in the past 12 months and may not even capture the full extent of the problem if people don’t report their housing status or are ‘sofa surfing’ with family or friends. It is against this backdrop that I am eager to step up and take more personal responsibility in helping to tackle the youth homelessness crisis, and I therefore became a LandAid trustee this summer.

While the industry’s collective fundraising, training, investment and pro bono work is imperative in helping those who experience homelessness, it is only comparatively recently the sector has really started to use its strengths to support employment opportunities, training and skills within communities to address some of the key causes of homelessness, including family breakdown, leaving care, school exclusion and mental health issues.

These issues don’t only affect young people; they are a present and growing concern among all demographics and communities in the UK, but the youngest members of society do tend to be at the sharpest end.

Increased housing delivery is needed, that’s a given, tackling (among many others) issues around the planning system, politics, taxation and macroeconomics with policymakers, but again while the physical asset certainly helps deal with the effects of youth homelessness it doesn’t necessarily cure the causes.

One way the industry could really address this area is by having a more open and honest debate among ourselves and with regulators about the future of Section 106 contributions. S106 looks at allocating contributions to capital-expenditure-based solutions but is quite inflexible when it comes to revenue-expenditure-based solutions.

If it were possible to divert some funds to provide financial support for the roles that tackle the causes of homelessness as mentioned above, including youth workers, social workers, child mental health practitioners and family liaison officers, then fewer people – especially young people – would end up experiencing homelessness.

When it comes to the S106 focus on physical assets and infrastructure, delivering, staffing and running new youth centres – an area that has seen mass closures due to local authority spending cuts – should be considered alongside other infrastructure such as roads and education, given the provision of supportive spaces to go to is proved to reduce the number of young people who find themselves in desperate situations.

Real estate potentially has considerable power to tackle youth homelessness and create significant public benefit by preventing the causes of homelessness. If the sector can reduce the pressure of the housing crisis by reducing the need for housing and supported housing in the first place, then housing delivery and funding could be allocated for other needs such as key worker provision or health.

If an ‘intervention’ occurs prior to homelessness, then real estate can also offer the potential employment opportunities that someone can support themselves with, also allowing them to access privately funded housing and not requiring financial support or supported housing from public funds, so the fiscal economic swing is significant. Ultimately, this would be the pinnacle of the real estate industry delivering social value.

Richard Rees is managing director of Savills UK