About Jamie Wallace

Jamie Wallace is the NextDoor Project's Tenancy Support Officer. Jamie helps people find accommodation all over London and helps put them back on the path to a sustainable tenancy.

Is welfare reform leading to an increase in homelessness?

A-rough-sleeper-on-the-st-007A late flurry of activity just before Christmas meant that the 2012 ended well for the Private Rented Sector access scheme. It was particularly gratifying to move one family, a single mother who had fled domestic violence with her  two very young children and had been living in one room in emergency accommodation in Harrow for the last 12 months. I had gone there back in September to assess her and it was an utterly soulless and depressing place, although I was assured by her Social worker who had referred the family to us that she had “seen a lot worse”. The family moved into a nice two bedroom flat in Stoke Newington on Christmas Eve and the last time I spoke to them they were settling in well, with a benign landlord who had gone out of his way to make them comfortable.

Unfortunately the Christmas spirit evaporated with the season and the situation for the last few weeks has been as bleak and depressing as the weather. The early part of the year is traditionally a slow time in the rental market,  but as we get towards the end of February there should be a definite increase in supply, but so far this has failed to materialise. Alarmingly the feedback I have been getting is that Landlords who were previously happy to rent to Housing Benefit claimants are now extremely reluctant. This is because universal credit vastly increases the risk of tenants falling into arrears (see Romin’s last blog post for more details) and also the proposed abolition of crisis loans, which almost every Housing Benefit claimant uses to pay rent in advance, and without which no landlord will offer a tenancy. Continue reading

A tale of two landlords

Rachmanism n. the extortion or exploitation by a landlord of tenants of dilapidated or slum property. OED c. 1960

One of the more challenging aspects of my job so far has been persuading our clients that because of the housing benefit caps, and changes to the way the Local Housing

Allowance is calculated, they have to accept that the properties we find them will probably be in zones three or four, will almost certainly be a lot smaller than they are used to and likely to be fairly basic.

We do however give a firm commitment that all of the properties on our books will be of a decent, habitable standard, clean and in a good general state of repair.

One of the more encouraging and unexpected revelations of my work has been to find that there are landlords operating at this end of the market who do indeed pride themselves on providing comfortably furnished, well maintained accommodation, they do this because they are decent human beings I’m sure, but it must also make good commercial sense to have contented tenants who stay for long periods.

At a viewing in North London this week the studio flat I was shown was small but immaculate, with a new wooden floor, a fresh coat of paint, and a tiny but well planned kitchen area. The agent readily agreed to buy a new sofa bed with drawers in it for extra storage , (our client was clearly concerned about the restricted space), but the flat was in Cricklewood, zone 2 and perfect for her work. She will be moving in on Monday, and  on the telephone today the agent promised that the property would be thoroughly cleaned before this, even though it looked sparkling to me .

At the other end of the spectrum there are sadly many landlords who seem untroubled by the systematic exploitation of desperate, vulnerable people, and who take full advantage of housing legislation which is grossly biased in the favour of the landlord, and offers little in the way of effective protection to the tenant.

In Newham, East London, a couple of weeks ago I spent a hideous afternoon being driven from property to property by just such a Landlord (in his gleaming brand new Mercedes SL coupe). One small terraced house he showed me had six people living  in it, sharing one shower and two toilets. I was shown a room about six feet by four, a stained, lumpy mattress on the bed, a makeshift wooden cupboard screwed crookedly to one wall (there was no available floor space for it  to stand on).

When I asked the landlord if he accepted housing benefit he said yes he did, but he added that he then expected the tenants to top this up with their own money. “By how much?”  I inquired, “100 to 200 pounds a month”, he said, “How” I asked “did people on £71 a week JSA, manage this?” “I don’t ask questions” said the landlord, “Just as long as I get my money”.

More than 50 years after the scandal of the notorious Notting Hill slum landlord Peter Rachman, his spirit has, it seems, returned to haunt us.

Z2K at the Landlord and Letting Show

The Barbican Centre is the largest performing Arts centre in Europe and is home to such institutions as the London Symphony Orchestra. However for the last two days its cavernous halls were ringing with the sounds of the Landlord and Letting show, where we had set up a NextDoor project stall in an attempt to entice landlords to join our scheme.

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A new home for Elthan and Yvonne thanks to our housing scheme

(Names of people and places have been changed)

Ethan is a quiet and studious young man, from a secure, loving family who had never been involved with gangs or been in any king of trouble with the police. Unfortunately for him he had become a target of local gangs, who were intimidating, bullying and threatening him.

Ethan goes to college, where he is studying Engineering, he also has a part–time job.  Both him and his mum felt that the pressure he was being subjected to was having a negative impact on his future plans, so they decided that he should move into a Hostel in June last year. After more than a year in Hostel accommodation, both Ethan and the Hostel felt that he was ready to live more independently.

His new landlady, Yvonne, lives in Streatham with her 14 year old son and works for the NHS at one of the capital’s largest Hospitals. She has been thinking about letting out a spare room in her house for some time, but was very apprehensive, never having done anything like it before. As soon as she heard about the NextDoor Project, and in particular our vetting procedures and on-going support package, she decided to join the Scheme.

Last week I took Ethan, his Key Worker, and his Mum to meet Yvonne at her house. Yvonne, Ethan and his Mum all got on very well, and we all feel Ethan has found himself a home from home, and a stable base from which to progress his life.

Finding Landlords for the NextDoor Project

The first task I was given on my appointment to the newly created role of Private Rented Sector Access Scheme Co-ordinator for the NextDoor Project was to think of a job title which did not require yogi like control of the breath and an ability to enunciate one’s vowels that would have impressed Professor Higgins!

So I address you now as Tenancy Support Officer; prosaic, does what it says on the tin, but elegant in its simplicity. (I should own up here and admit it was not, alas, my formulation, but Joanna, our Chief Executive). Continue reading