Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Interview with peer landlord Henry

Peer Landlord Henry Stevenson
Henry Stevenson is a Peer Landlord for the Thames Reach initiative Peer Landlord London
In the feature below, Thames Reach Communications Team volunteer Amy Muu looks at Peer Landlord London, a new model of affordable housing helping formerly homeless people take the first steps back into work. 

Henry Stevenson is a Peer Landlord for the Thames Reach initiative Peer Landlord London

There is a way out...

As Henry Stevenson turns the key in his front door, the lock protests. “This needs to be fixed,” he notes, but his smile shows it is just another improvement he has to make, in line with the changes he has made in his own life and in the voluntary role he currently occupies. 

Henry is a Peer Landlord for the Thames Reach initiative Peer Landlord London, a new, innovative scheme that offers affordable shared housing to former rough sleepers who are in employment or actively seeking work. Peer Landlord London was established in July 2012 following work with Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of social housing charity Commonweal. Commonweal acquired the properties used by the scheme which now has eight houses and plans to expand elsewhere in the capital.

The new housing model bridges the gap between supported housing and independent living, providing much needed access to the private rental sector. Unlike traditional privately owned properties, deposits are not required. Tenants pay a reduced rent compared to the market value and have the opportunity to have a small percentage of their personal income saved for them each week.

The added bonus, and what makes this initiative unique, is the provision of a ‘peer landlord’, a tenant who serves as a role model with the responsibility for ensuring the smooth running of the house and for providing support to the other tenants, whether that is through offering financial advice or organising a weekly social meal.

Indeed, Peer Landlord London roots itself in shared responsibility and peer support. According to Commonweal’s website, the scheme offers ‘supportive’ rather than ‘supported’ housing and the Peer Landlord role is crucial to that objective. 

Lucy Burns, lead worker at Thames Reach’s Employment and Resettlement Team, trains and recruits peer landlords. She said the criteria for becoming a peer landlord is high so as to attract the right candidates and ensure the success and quality of the project. Although the service is open to Thames Reach’s service and ex-service users, the application process requires references from previous accommodation providers. Candidates must either be in work or actively seeking work and they must not be in debt. The benefits of being a peer landlord, however, are rewarding. Peer landlords have the opportunity to develop themselves through having increased responsibility, something that is helpful for successful move-on.

Henry, 50, has been a Peer Landlord since moving into the property he shares with two other men in January this year. His experience with homelessness came after a violent encounter with thieves who forced him out of his planned accommodation in Liverpool. Henry fled to London where he spent three weeks sleeping rough on the streets before eventually allowing himself to be helped by homeless services.

“At first I was embarrassed to be seen,” he said. “I used to hide when the [outreach] vans came round.”

When he was taken to a day centre, Henry said it was like “the building put its arms around me. It was the right place. The minute I walked through the door, I knew I was okay.”

This intervention led to further positive steps taken by Henry to improve and change his life. He enrolled on college courses, gaining lifestyle skills and certificates and he threw himself into voluntary work: “I took all that was offered.” 

Taking on the role of Peer Landlord is an extension of another voluntary job Henry does for Thames Reach, that of Peer Mentor for Ace, a service that helps some of London’s most entrenched rough sleepers to escape homelessness.

For Henry, being a Peer Landlord, his home and living with like-minded people is a natural setting to offer assistance. He encourages his housemates to chat on a regular basis over coffee and speaks positively about his peers. On the living environment and potential for conflict, Henry says there can be challenges but that things are fine “as long as there is trust.” In regards to his own aspirations, Henry hopes to settle down in his own place one day with a wife and children. He says that Thames Reach has given him a lot and now he wants to “give something back” which he is clearly doing: now it is he that is supportive rather than supported. “I like helping people,” he says. “It’s satisfying when someone says thanks.”