Making Sense of Housing First and Furniture

The announcement by government last year of a number of Housing First pilot schemes in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Liverpool City Region was roundly welcomed across the housing world. As we move closer to the actual implementation of these schemes, the sector is watching with interest to see whether this revolutionary (by the UK’s standards) approach to tackling homelessness will be effective and sustainable.

 

As we have detailed in a previous blog, Housing First schemes must include furniture as part of their offer if they are to have a realistic chance of success.

 

Here at EFP we have been both heartened and concerned to hear of the plans of one organisation running a prospective Housing First scheme. To be welcomed is the fact they do plan on offering furniture as part of the scheme. However, of concern is that the organisation does not, in End Furniture Poverty’s opinion, appear to be committing adequate resources to the provision of this furniture.

 

The organisation in question is said to want to furnish its Housing First properties using only preloved furniture, with a proposed budget of c. £600 per property.

 

End Furniture Poverty is a passionate advocate for the use of preloved furniture, which can be an invaluable short-term solution for households struggling with Furniture Poverty. However, there are a number of reasons why we feel it inappropriate to use preloved in this instance.

 

First and foremost, is the issue of scale. An organisation would be highly unlikely to be able to efficiently acquire all of the furniture and appliances from a small number of suppliers and instead would likely be forced to take an ad-hoc, piecemeal approach – potentially having to source the same items from several, or even several dozen, different organisations. The differing specifications and quality of assorted preloved goods could prove to be something of a logistical nightmare. Indeed, EFP’s own rudimentary investigations suggest that finding a single organisation to meet the demand for white goods, for example, would not be possible.

 

Longevity could also prove to be a stumbling block. The quality of preloved goods available can often vary – this is a key reason why preloved items are often only a short-term solution – and it is not always clear how long these items of furniture and appliances will last. The average warranty offered by retailers when selling preloved white goods tends to be only 6 months (EFP will be examining preloved warranties in a later piece of work). Should a Housing First tenant’s oven break after 6 months and a day, for example, what would happen next? Would the organisation provide a replacement preloved oven? How long would it take and how easily would they source one? Or would the tenant be left to fend for themselves? We already know that Housing First service users are more vulnerable than general needs. Such a crisis situation could prove difficult for them to manage and undo any of the positive work that the scheme had previously done.

 

We also worry that a budget of £600 per property would not be enough to realistically provide all of the essential items needed. Preloved white goods alone tend to retail for north of £100. It would take some impressive financial gymnastics to come in on budget. What’s more, the cost of offering new furniture need not cost too much more than using preloved. It would certainly prove more cost effective in the long run.

 

It would be especially concerning if the rationale for not providing new furniture in these Housing First schemes were to mimic the justifications often put forward by housing providers when opposing the implementation of furnished tenancy schemes (another topic for a future blog). It would be a shame if the same misconceptions and, in some instances, prejudices were to hold back what could be a revolutionary scheme from being truly successful.

 

Like the rest of the housing world, End Furniture Poverty will be watching on with interest.