Today we launch our Room for Refugees campaign, which aims to increase the number of flats and houses we can offer to refugees and asylum seekers in Tyne and Wear.
Action Foundation has a proud history of offering warm, welcoming homes to people who need them – indeed it was why our charity was first established 16 years ago.
We began by housing just one destitute asylum seeker and today we operate 19 properties providing a place to live for 66 people at any one time.
Last year (2021-22) we were able to support a total of 126 people but we’d like to house even more, which is why we’re launching an awareness raising campaign to attract more philanthropic landlords to support this vital work.
Helen Cowgill, Accommodation Services Manager for Action Foundation, said: “We’re currently supported by 12 generous landlords who make their properties available to us at either a nominal or reduced monthly rent.
“This type of giving allows us to house and support our clients at a critical time in their lives and we’re really grateful to those who choose to help our charity in this way. In 2023 we would like to attract more philanthropic landlords. We would also like to work more closely with our region’s registered housing providers to help our clients move on into independent tenancies.”
Q&A WITH LANDLORD FIONA HALL
Fiona Hall is a former Member of the European Parliament and has been a landlord with Action Foundation since 2020.
How did you come to be a landlord with Action Foundation?
When I was working in Brussels I had bought a flat so that I had somewhere to stay during the week. In January 2020 I decided to retire, and sell the flat. I realised that I would need the money from the sale for my pension when I was older, but I didn’t need it straightaway. So I decided to buy a property in the North East that Action Foundation could rent. I talked to them about where would be a good location and ended up buying an upper Tyneside flat in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle, which is handy for many of the support services that refugees use. The loft of the property had been converted, so it has four decent-sized bedrooms as well as a kitchen, bathroom and shared living room.
Why did you decide to become a landlord with us?
I know from friends and family just how difficult and expensive it is to keep a roof over your head at the moment – even when you have money saved for the deposit, good references from previous landlords, and perhaps the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ to tide you over a difficult patch. Action Foundation clients have no such support. That’s why the accommodation provided by Action Foundation is so crucial.
What are the pros and cons of being a landlord?
My experience of being a landlord with Action Foundation has been very positive. I charge enough rent to cover my costs such as building insurance and any repairs, and of course the rent is paid on time. The residents have an Action Foundation support worker who is invaluable when the occasional niggle arises. For example, one man wanted to keep his borrowed bicycle upstairs in the living room to make sure it didn’t get stolen. Understandable, but hauling a bike up and down stairs doesn’t do the wallpaper much good! Action Foundation’s support worker intervened to explain that bikes could be kept in the locked back yard, and the charity also redecorated the wall. Because my contract as a landlord is with Action Foundation, not with the individual residents, I don’t have to navigate such tricky situations myself.
It’s so helpful to be able to leave it to experts who are used to sensitively handling language barriers and cultural differences.
Most of the furniture and household appliances from the Brussels flat went to furnish the property. Whenever I visit with Action Foundation to do a landlord check, I’m always surprised and pleased to see familiar objects again – ‘Oh, I remember that tea towel!’ But it’s important to bear in mind that (in my case) four young men inevitably create some wear and tear, so it’s a good idea not to furnish a property with anything you would be personally too sad about getting broken or dirty.
What would you say to anyone considering becoming a landlord with Action Foundation?
The help that Action Foundation can give to refugees is limited by how many properties are available, so if more landlords rent to Action Foundation, more people will have somewhere to live. The big advantage for a landlord is that your legal tenant is Action Foundation, not the residents themselves, so as a landlord you are always dealing with a professional organisation. What’s more, the charity has its own network of repair people, so if the roof leaks you don’t have to spend time yourself looking for a tradesman. In effect, Action Foundation acts as a management agent for you. So I would say to anyone who is considering renting to Action Foundation: ‘Do it!’ It’s easier than renting to tenants directly, and you are giving a home to people who through no fault of their own might otherwise end up sleeping on the streets.