Reflections on Reimagining Rent: 1 year on

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One year on from starting Reimagining Rent, we caught up with Maria Morgan from Kineara to find out about their progress since leaving our first cohort of participants, and how the programme has helped them develop their Rent Support Programme (RSP+), a new and upcoming venture aiming to reduce evictions for vulnerable tenants in the private rented sector using holistic support.

How did you find the Reimagining Rent programme?

The Young Foundation (YF) found me actually, which is amazing! Last year, Kineara held a workshop with Azuko and Poplar Harca, where we invited professionals and practitioners across the housing sector to discuss how we could improve the journey through temporary housing. It was during the workshop that I met Radhika Bynon from YF and she told me about Reimagining Rent and encouraged me to apply. I asked when the deadline was and she said, “today!” So I went home and started the application straightaway.

It’s the best thing we did because prior to that we were delivering the programme on a much smaller scale, and only really working with organisations who already knew about us, stayed with us and continued to renew their partnerships with us. It was a blessing that we made it onto the programme at such short notice, and it was exactly what we needed to elevate our work. The most exciting thing about Reimagining Rent is the common desire to make the private rented sector work better for vulnerable people, and that’s certainly what we’re all about at Kineara.

It sounds like a fantastic programme. What were the biggest highs and lows?

You really have to be committed to the whole process and at times, that was quite a challenge. I went to every session because I knew that this was a golden opportunity for us. There was just so much information and knowledge in the room and being with people working in the same space, towards similar aims, dealing with an issue in the PRS which would benefit so many people… that made me want to be involved! The facilitators and the speakers were great. I went there to reimagine our RSP programme, but I left reimagining the whole of Kineara!

It got me thinking, how do I take all of this goodness and apply it correctly? It’s like when I first learnt to drive, I was driving, going to lessons, but it was when I left that the real driving started. I didn’t know how to drive until I passed my test and I was left on my own to drive. Questions like: how do you manage day to day? How do you build a team, how do you challenge yourself? Even though I was there with more experience, with a longer track record of running a social enterprise, I kind of put that all aside, I’m here. I’m just a baby. I come here with no agenda, no preconceptions or dispositions, I wanted to be taught. Because every stage of business is new.

Was there a particular session that stood out for you?

There were so many great sessions to choose from.

For one, I met Susan Aktemel, the founder and director of Homes for Good, not only a great person, she also became my mentor. She was great and really successful in running a housing and letting agency / social enterprise. I am blessed to have her as my mentor.

One particular session on branding made me laugh:

At the time, Kineara used the tagline “because families and communities add up” which made complete sense to me but I was sitting next to one of the Young Foundation’s staff and she said, “I don’t know what that means.”

At first I responded, “How can you not know what that means? But then the facilitator came and said: “No, I don’t get what you mean either.”

To be honest, I was a little offended. I mean, it was our mantra. But I stopped, took a step back and realised that if I had to defend and explain it so much, it meant that we weren’t communicating ourselves well enough. So from there I rang our Communications Manager, and following an away day with our team, we changed the tagline to: “connected communities collective change.” This was all part of Reimagining Kineara.

How have you been reimagining Kineara and the Rent Support Programme (RSP)?

The inspiration for our programmes comes from the FIP (Family Intervention Project) model: a dedicated keyworker approach with intensive, purposeful intervention. I took the ethos of the FIP model as the foundation to write Kineara’s first programme, the RSP, viewing rent arrears as a trigger issue and shortening the intervention. But we wrote RSP in 2011, before the housing crisis had become so entrenched and before the worst of the welfare reforms. So I had to ask myself: how can RSP continue to make a difference in the changing context of housing?

At the same time, I’d been thinking about how to scale up Kineara’s work and expand our reach but also take the programme into the private sector for vulnerable tenants. It took time for the idea to fully form and it finally came when I was sitting in a Reimagining Rent session listening to a speaker, I think it was Susan Aktemel actually. I was listening to her and then OMG! The penny dropped.

We’re now beginning to have conversations with Local Authorities about RSP+ and I don’t yet know the outcome of this work, but we’re motoring ahead and wishing for the best. I hope that RSP+ can be duplicated across councils. I’d like our original RSP to be resurrected within housing providers too, and working on scaling up all of Kineara’s work, which was one of the drivers for me joining Reimagining Rent.

As an organisation, we are reshuffling the way we do things to make it more efficient. I have an amazing team full of great people. We are all in it together and Kineara is not a one man band. I’ve been so blessed to have such amazing people to go join me on this journey.

It’s been exciting to see the development of the Rent Support Programme Plus (RSP+) pilot in the last few months. Can you explain more about the new model we are piloting?

First of all, it is about working with Local Authorities to connect, support and engage both landlords and private tenants in their boroughs. Many councils have now introduced Landlord Licensing Schemes and accreditation schemes to help improve standards, and most do offer some form of advice line for private tenant in insecure tenancies or who are threatened with homelessness.

Of course, our RSP is not a silver bullet for all housing issues. But I asked myself, how can we build on the kind of support we’ve delivered with our social housing tenants in the past and extend it to the most vulnerable tenants in the PRS? As far as I could see, there were no other services providing this offer. So the first part of this pilot is to offer RSP to council’s and work with them to strengthen their relationship with private landlords, offering alternative options to issuing Section 21’s, preventing additional costs to the council in the form of re-housing, temporary accommodation and the rest, as well as, of course, preventing homelessness for households.

If you live in a council property, there is a far greater obligation to work things out with the tenant when problems arise such as rent arrears. This made me reflect on why a private landlord would want to pay for a service like RSP if they can issue a Section 21 and have a brand-new paying tenant come into their property. This is why our delivery model is much stronger working with Local Authorities and they can also save a lot of money by participating. The difference between RSP and RSP+ is that the original programme is delivered for social housing tenants where the housing association pays for the intervention, whereas in RSP+ the Council invests in the programme, offering landlords a route away from eviction via our service; enabling intensive support to be delivered to private sector tenants whose vulnerability often goes under Local Authorities’ radar until a households’ needs become urgent.

Finally, do you have any advice for this year’s cohort?

My advice to them is be open.

Sometimes we can defend what we know and we miss out on learning something new, – it’s a trap I have fallen into. Just let go and be open to allow your mind to think, take in new ideas and think creatively. And use the room, use the space, use the people around you. If you immerse yourself in that experience you will get so much more from it. It was the best thing that we’ve done as Kineara. It has really elevated our thinking. And I would say to everybody, enjoy it and make the most of it!

The group are very varied which is amazing. They seem to be coming from different perspectives but have the same goal, which is working to make the private rented sector better for vulnerable people, including those on low incomes. It’s also a useful opportunity to reflect on where society is at. There are so many changes in the UK, and it’s important that we have a strong foundation and identity about what we are doing, but have the flexibility to meet changing needs.

I would like to also say thanks to The Young Foundation for delivering such an impactful programme. Looking at the cohort that I was part of as well as the new cohort of participants, the ideas people are developing are pretty incredible and being introduced to investors who are willing and keen to support projects with a social purpose is awesome.

All the best to the new cohorts!

Kineara is a growing and innovative social enterprise that provides holistic support for families, vulnerable adults, and school pupils. They deliver several specialist programmes focusing on practical, therapeutic and wellbeing support, rent and housing support, educational support and employment support. Read about their latest vacancies here.

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