The Women In Safe Homes fund, believed to be the world’s first gender-lens property fund, is being launched as a solution to the lack of affordable, safe and secure homes across the UK for women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, survivors of domestic abuse, are ex-offenders, survivors of domestic abuse or have other complex needs such as mental health problems.
The need for the fund was highlighted by Big Society Capital (an independent special investment institution) as part of its work addressing the housing needs of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. They carried out a survey of sixty women’s sector organizations and discovered a significant demand for specific housing for women in challenging circumstances.
This led to Big Society Capital drafting a property fund proposal. Resonance and Patron Capital were appointed joint Fund Manager of the Women in Safe Homes fund and have collaborated to create and manage the fund, which will invest directly in residential homes across the UK. The Fund will acquire the properties and lease to women’s sector and homelessness charities which, in turn, will rent to women, with a secure tenancy. Partnering with women’s sector charities, the women will not only be provided with housing but will also have access to support networks needed to help them rebuild their lives. Big Society Capital has agreed in principal, a commitment of £10 million.
The fund has a target size of £100 million and aims to provide around 650 affordable homes across the UK. It will follow a traditional pattern with an objective of income generated from rents and capital from appreciation when the properties are sold (most likely to a follow-on social impact investment fund). It will also build on the successes of the social impact model implemented through our three Homelessness Property Funds. It will be targeting a first close April 2020 at around £15m-£30m and is currently taking expressions of interest from qualifying investors.
The demand for safe and secure homes for women in need is extremely high. Domestic abuse is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children. Women’s Aid reports that 60% of women being referred to specialist refuges are being turned away, mainly due to lack of space. Their ‘Nowhere to Turn Report’ also showed that more than one in 10 women supported by the charity during January 2017 - January 2018 had been forced to sleep rough after fleeing domestic abuse, while almost half had to sofa surf or live in temporary, unsuitable accommodation – many with their children.
Lack of access to safe, secure housing is the biggest barrier to people leaving abusive circumstances and without this, survivors of domestic abuse are often left with no option but to either return to a dangerous situation or put themselves at risk of further abuse or harm by sleeping rough or by becoming one of the thousands of hidden homeless.
Housing and mental health are also intrinsically linked. Being homeless can make mental health issues worse and in turn, poor mental health can make it harder to cope with issues around housing. Mental health charity MIND reports that 79% of people with mental health problems said that their housing had negatively impacted their mental health and 42% had experienced homelessness in the past.
The chronic lack of suitable housing options also results in 60% of female prisoners not having a home to go to on release. Without safe and secure housing and a more settled life it is harder for female ex-offenders to access support services and reunite with their children. It can also help break the revolving door of short custodial sentencing and the harm it causes to the women involved and their families.
Without a safe and secure home, it is that much harder to care for children, get a job or training placement, register with a GP and access health care, or arrange benefits.
The impact of women’s sector and homelessness charities to reliably scale up the provision of safe, secure and affordable housing in the community for this group is huge, with current property investment structures not tailored to their needs.
The Fund has already formed its first partnership with leading women’s sector charity, Preston Road Women’s Centre in Hull, which will offer safe homes and help other women’s sector organizations to replicate its pioneering recovery model for women and children.
Charities or social enterprises focusing on women and homelessness, and which have an infrastructure that would enable them to lease properties and then rent them to women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, should get in touch.
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