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We’re looking back over the housing history of our city’s Black communities and how this has shaped the experiences of the young people we support.

Black people in London of all ages have been historically discriminated against when trying to access both private and social housing. Black households in London have been directly prevented from accessing social housing via migration policies, been made to wait for longer for housing, and have been offered lower-quality, smaller homes (Human City 2016 , LSE 2017). In the 1980’s many social housing organisations made commitments to tackling this in various ways, but the most remarkable response came from within Black communities themselves. A surge of BME led housing associations were launched, many of which survive to this day, including Manningham, Unity Housing and Arawak Walton, all overseen by umbrella organisation BME National.

What’s changed between the 1980’s and now?

The more general shifts in public understanding about racism and anti-Blackness over past decades have been about the lessening of overt racism and discrimination to a fuller understanding of structural, ingrained racism and how that impacts the lived experience of Black people. The conversations and campaigns that re-rose to prominence during 2020 have shifted this frame and require new solutions. The housing issues remain ever prevalent, 23% of people seen sleeping rough in London from 2020-21 were Black (CHAIN, 2021) which is a significant increase on the 14% proportion seen in 2019/20. Black people remain more than three times as likely to be homeless (Shelter, 2020), accounting for 32% per cent of those owed a housing duty in London, despite only comprising around 12% the London population (London Councils, 2021.)

How does this link in with young people and our work?

53% of the young people using our services in 2020-21 identified as Black, the first quarter data from this year already rising to 54%. We offer a full spectrum of services to the young Londoners who come to us tailored to the intersections of their identity. Housing is a common issue for most of them. More recent discussions have often been built around intersectionality, the understanding that people sit at multiple intersections of identity and therefore we each experience different combinations of barriers and challenges. This is the reality for almost all the young people we support, that they are facing oppression on multiple fronts: race, class, ability, neurodiversity, sexuality, gender identity etc.

40% of young Londoners surveyed in Jan 2021 were worried about access to safe housing (Partnership for Young London, 2021). This wasn’t just based on people’s race with 46% young Black Londoners voicing housing anxiety, compared to 49% of young people who self-identified as working class young people, showing that, in this instance, housing insecurity is more strongly linked to class background than race alone. When you zoom out it’s clear to see that many of this interacts and intersects on a continuously shifting basis.

What we’re doing in 2021 and beyond to help young Londoners into housing

Everyone deserves a safe place to call home. Such places need to respond to the diverse, intersectional needs of young Londoners, including supported housing, support for young people at key periods of transitions (eg. leaving full time education or care). But it isn’t about housing alone. Unity Housing’s new CEO Cedric Boston recently announced their strategy of developing an additional service offer alongside their housing provision, primarily focusing on helping residents into education and employment. BME led housing associations are setting up holistic services that tackle jobs, education and training as part of the frontline response to housing insecurity.

We champion a holistic approach that addresses all of a young person’s needs, including housing, health, education and employment. Our advocacy and outreach work for young people involved in the criminal justice system is also a crucial part of our offer, alongside longer-term campaigning to change policies and systems that have minoritised communities. Our ‘one stop shop’ model is becoming increasingly common as businesses recognise that single issue solutions will never work long term, because we don’t lead one issue lives.

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