Living with Dignity – Let’s offer homes not houses
Following the release of the recommendations of the Welsh Government commissioned review of affordable housing supply, it got me thinking about the standard of house landlords offer their tenants. In previous consultation with single parents, it was made clear, very quickly, that not having flooring when moving into a property was causing significant issues. Issues relating to the safety of their children, issues relating to increased loneliness and isolation and issues relating to affordability.
Upon exploring the extent of the issue to understand whether all social landlords didn’t offer flooring, I came across Greenstream Flooring CIC. Greenstream is a social enterprise based in Rhondda Cynon Taf that alongside its standard commercial flooring services re-uses otherwise ‘buried’ (landfilled) or ‘burnt’ (energy from waste) commercial carpet tiles for second-life use for community benefit. Alongside providing an affordable flooring scheme to social landlords (which I'll tell you a more about in a minute), they host monthly ‘Community Donation Days' during which they give away thousands of metres of otherwise ‘buried’ or ‘burnt’ heavy duty carpet tiles to local residents, community groups and small businesses.
The founder of the organisation gave me the opportunity to volunteer at one of their Community Donation Days as they are, as she put it, "manic". Of course, I siezed this opportunity with both hands in hope that I could gain a broader understanding of the issue we are facing.
Upon early arrival to the warehouse, there were 30+ women, children and pensioners, queuing to get their hands on these free carpet tiles. So, I began to talk to them about their experiences. One young woman stated that “social services told me to come here to pick up free carpet because, "it is the last thing I need to be able to get my kid back” another woman who has been living with her parents for a year whilst waiting for a house, said, “it is so difficult moving into a house with no flooring as I literally have nothing apart from my children’s furniture after leaving a relationship…flooring is just so expensive, I just can’t afford it. It is going to take time to get flooring in and I just hate the thought of my kids being on bare floors getting splinters". An older man stated that both him and his wife have breathing problems and are disabled and that the dust from the floor has led to a decline in their health. A mother of a 3-year-old boy said that “so far, he has run across the hallway three times and on all three occasions, I’ve had to pull chunks of splinters out of his foot whilst he is crying, it is horrible”.
The truth is, I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing; I see and hear about the incredible work going on with tenants in housing associations and local authorities; I see how much work they put in to ensure tenants really are at the heart of their organisations. Yet something that is so crucial, something that ensures tenants can feel that their children are safe, that their health will not decline and that they can simply have dignity and respect in their home is being completely missed.
What are landlords doing right now?
One tenant mentioned that she had been to view the house she was getting and that it was carpeted but when she came to move in, there was no carpet and she was told she would need to get her own carpet. When speaking with social landlords about this, it seems that it is related to health and safety and that the threshold of what constitutes a risk and what doesn’t, varies within the sector. Some landlords do leave flooring in if they think it is sufficient. My argument; consult the tenant, are they happy to maintain that carpet and take responsibility for it? It would seem that cleaning the carpet would take less time and therefore less cost than ripping the carpet out, whilst also being better for the economy, for the environment and most important for tenant. On average a standard carpet laid in an average four by four metre room (16m2) costs approximately £14 to £16 per m2 fitted approximately £250 per room. This is a simply a unaffordable amount of money for social housing tenants.
In terms of the environmental impact, carpet helps save energy as it is an important contributor to the insulation of the indoor environment. Carpet insulates floors as it provides both a psychological and physical feeling of warmth and comfort in a home. It also provides a vital sound insulation barrier especially relevant in HMO’s.
In Scotland, to avoid landlord liability, of retaining carpets, the carpets are transferred from one tenant to another using a token £1 with private ‘tenant to tenant’ contract; is this an option?
In Wales, our initial consultation with social landlords seems to indicate that much more could be done in this area, with a few RSLs working with Greenstream to support some existing tenants via hardship funds or similar to get basic second- life carpet tiles in their homes and others such as, Monmouthshire Housing Association (MHA) recently amending their VOID standards so that all VOIDs are carpeted (amongst other things). This according to MHA is best for both the tenant and landlord. There is certainly a willingness amongst social landlords to further work on this issue – so let’s start working together.
The business case for flooring
Providing flooring ensures affordability for the tenant as they won’t be spending money on carpets and are less likely to get into debt. In addition to that, the higher the VOID specification the shorter the time the property stays empty (in ‘hard to let’ areas with little demand) and tenants are more likely to stay longer, living happier and healthier lives. If people take pride in their homes, they are more likely to pay their rent.
Research has revealed that having dignity and respect in your home will increase well-being, minimise cortisol levels, minimise violence and minimise ill health. In addition to all of these benefits, providing flooring can minimise loneliness and isolation as tenants will feel proud to have people to visit their home.
Now I appreciate that that there is a cost implication and VOID turnaround times are huge performance indicators, but it is time to look at this basic of needs as it can be done. Re-used carpet through the use of carpet tiles or something as simple as a tenant token system as suggested by Scotland. Consultation is the key.
Wales is a modern and progressive nation and we are keen to work with the sector to ensure that having the basic sound, warmth and dignity that flooring provides is a fundamental element of new lettings – helping us fulfil one of basic human rights- the right to adequate housing.
Of course, I don’t doubt that we need to build affordable houses as we simply don’t have enough but I argue that these houses must be homes and to be a home, it must have sufficient basic underfoot insulation and sound proofing – basically carpet or appropriate flooring!
In the next few months, we will be working with Tai Pawb, CIH, CHC, Greenstream, tenants and the sector to further explore this problem and try to find solutions. This will include:
Research with tenants and social landlords further exploring the problem and potential solutions.
Meetings/sessions with the sector to develop and promote potential solutions and good practice.
Want to join us in working on this issue? Get in touch.