Ethical landlord EHC raises a further £7.5m to address growing housing crisis

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The Ethical Housing Agency team on the steps of the Redcar Beacon. Pic by Doug Moody.

The Ethical Housing Company (EHC) is scaling up its efforts to provide decent and affordable homes to rent in Teesside, after securing £7.5m of additional funding.

EHC’s new investment comes from the Teesside Pension Fund, which has committed £5m, and social investor Big Society Capital, which has committed £2.5m, as part of a national effort to combat homelessness in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

EHC was launched in 2018 with an initial £5m of funding from Bridges Evergreen Holdings, a specialist long-term investment partner for mission-driven organisations.

To date, EHC has acquired a portfolio of over 60 properties, with a further 20 completing soon.

It offers well-maintained, decent and affordable homes to let to households in need, in partnership with The Ethical Lettings Agency CIC (TELA) which supports tenants to sustain their tenancies for the long-term.

Carla Keegans, founding director of EHC, said: “We are excited to be working with the Teesside Pension Fund and Big Society Capital, and thank them for their trust in us.

“Their investment will be used directly to help house people in need across Teesside. Covid is hitting all communities, but here on Teesside it unfortunately comes on the back of many years of socio-economic deprivation.

“Homelessness was already rising, and Covid will only exacerbate this. We are proud to step up and help in this crisis.”

EHC’s new funding will be used solely to purchase properties to let to people in housing need.

The company has a growth plan to acquire in the region of 100 properties per year for the next decade.

Councillor David Coupe, chair of the Teesside Pension Fund Committee, said: “We are very pleased to have made this investment into The Ethical Housing Company.

“This is one of the first local investments that the Fund has made; we believe it will not only deliver a sustainable financial return but also deliver real social impact across Teesside, by helping people who need decent and affordable homes to rent.”

Freddie Waite, investment director at Big Society Capital, said: “We have been working with Bridges and The Ethical Housing Company since the first Covid lockdown to understand what was happening on the ground and help to develop solutions to tackling homelessness post-Covid.

“As such, we are delighted to have been able to invest £2.5m so that EHC can further scale its ethical landlord approach within the private rented sector and purchase properties to help prevent and alleviate homelessness on Teesside.”

EHC is operating within an ever-worsening socioeconomic context on Teesside.

Pre-Covid, Teesside already had around 60% of tenants in the private rent sector in receipt of benefits, double the national rate, and the local unemployment rate was also twice as high as the country as a whole.

By August 2020, 22% of all households on Teesside were in receipt of Universal Credit, a 97% rise since March, and unemployment is set to rise significantly when the furlough scheme ends.

This is likely to result in a growing number of people facing housing need or homelessness.

For many, the private rented sector will be the only option – but at the lower-cost end of this sector, there are too many slum landlords offering substandard properties with zero support for tenants. These properties are a blight on the lives of tenants and local communities.

EHC offers a positive alternative for Teesside. About two-thirds of the households supported by TELA are in receipt of housing benefit, and last year, 38% of its new lettings were to people who were facing homelessness, which has increased to 50% since the first Covid lockdown. 93% of tenants rated its service as good or excellent.

With this additional investment, EHC can expand its portfolio so it can help many more people find a decent and affordable home to live in, while also working with local stakeholders on longer-term strategic solutions to homelessness and housing need on Teesside.

Scott Greenhalgh, chair of Bridges Evergreen Holdings, added: “The Ethical Housing Company offers a compelling solution to the growing challenge of housing need on Teesside, in line with our focus on building stronger communities and a more inclusive economy.

“The results so far speak for themselves, and we’re delighted that this proof of concept has now catalysed further investment to support Carla and her brilliant team.

“The local insights and connections of the Teesside Pension Fund, coupled with the specialist property and social investment expertise of Big Society Capital, will be hugely helpful in taking this concept to scale.”