Migrant community groups are often ‘below the radar’ of local council housing departments or housing associations. Why is this so and could they do more?
As a housing professional who has worked on refugee and migrant issues for several years, I’ve often found that colleagues are sympathetic but fail to realise how they could help. For a start, they might assume that most migrants are ineligible for social housing – when in fact the position is much more complicated. But also they might assume there are few migrants living in their housing stock, or be geared up to working with long-established BME groups rather than new arrivals. If they start to look into what is actually happening on their patch they often get a shock. I remember one housing association near Manchester that has a very large, traditionally ‘white’ estate that found there were 35 different nationalities among its tenants, and that numbers were growing rapidly. Only when it had done a survey to find this out could it begin to adapt its services to new client groups.
Housing and Migration: A UK guide to issues and solutions aims to get more housing bodies to engage with migrant community groups. It’s the product of more than two years meetings, visits and discussions by the 20-person Housing and Migration Network. The network aimed not only to get to the bottom of the housing issues faced by migrants, but also find solutions which appear to work and especially ones which bring new arrivals together with established communities, benefitting both.
The guide has a lot of messages for social landlords. The first is that they should find out who lives in the areas they serve and how this has changed. As a recent briefing from the Migration Observatory shows, while London continues to attract most migrants, the biggest percentage growth in migration in the last few years has been in diverse places like Tyne and Wear, Scotland outside the Glasgow conurbation and Merseyside. Housing bodies across the UK have to get geared up to assisting migrants, not just in London and a few other big cities. Information sources are patchy but by combining different sources and possibly commissioning specific surveys, housing organisations can build up a picture of who lives locally and what their needs are.
Social landlords can then find out what migrant community groups already exist. The guide spells out that such groups are very diverse: some are long-established and provide mainstream services, many others are tiny, struggling, and dependent mainly on volunteers. We have tried to steer landlords that aren’t used to working with migrants towards the guides that already exist, for example the very useful CES guide or the material produced by HACT on the success factors in partnerships with migrant groups.
Landlords can then decide if they want to work with or support such groups. Why would social landlords do this? For many reasons, including wanting to back up and secure advice services that community groups might already provide, including ones on housing issues, but also to tap into their knowledge about local communities and work with them to promote integration at neighbourhood level. The guide mentions the practical support provided by housing bodies in Leeds and Birmingham. In Leeds, East North East Homes has provided a former housing office for the Leeds Refugee Forum, which then provides space for a range of local groups and activities. In Birmingham, the Piers Road Centre – provided initially by Family Housing Association – houses 21 different groups. Migrant support groups, like the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, benefit from having housing staff based in their centres to provide local advice sessions (in this case from Your Homes Newcastle).
Social landlords can also help tackle the isolation felt by many recent migrants. There are several examples of this happening. Govanhill Housing Association in Glasgow runs an advice service called GOSIP which particularly helps the local Roma community, which suffers from considerable social exclusion. Metropolitan’s Home Learning Project provides trained ESOL tutors for hard-to-reach refugees in Greater London. In Dudley, the 5 Estates Project, supported by Barrow Cadbury, started as an initiative by tenants and residents associations in council estates who realised that asylum seekers dispersed to the town were isolated and sometimes subject to abuse. Supported by the council’s housing department, the project brings new arrivals and established residents together and is now expanding to cover most of Dudley’s estates.
This is just a taster for the ideas in the guide. It would be great if Migration Pulse readers were to look at it and see if any of its proposals might work for them. If so, the guide can also be a tool to persuade social landlords to help. After all, if the forty or so landlords who have helped projects in the guide can do it, so can many more.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse