Moving on from the topic of co-production, our Community of Practice (CoP) webinar held on 6th May 2021 focused on access to safe and secure housing.
We heard two case studies from CoP members, Ndifuna Ukwazi (South Africa) and Cambridge House (United Kingdom), focused on two main questions: how do members influence policy or legal frameworks to improve tenant rights? And how do members empower tenants to claim their existent rights? This blog summarises learnings from these presentations and broader discussion with our members.
Influencing policy and legal frameworks
CoP members use a variety of strategies to influence policy and legal frameworks on tenant rights. Often, as explained by Habitat for Humanity Zambia, legal rights exist but are not implemented, with individuals having a partial understanding of complicated rules and limited enforcement by local authorities. Strategies involve a “tactical use of law and advocacy, community organising and media” as explained by Ndifuna Ukwazi. This often requires working together with different NGOs to understand policies and mobilise action.
In the United Kingdom, CoP members need a similar range of tactics to challenge both public policy and the behaviours of landlords. In Scotland, Venture Trust observed that despite relatively progressive laws, practice still lags behind. It is still difficult to get landlords on board and ensure proper tenancies. Since legal processes to address tenant rights take a long time, landlords are often slow to observe them and improve relationships with tenants.
Social justice is a central concern for CoP members. Access to decent standard housing that provides access to main areas of employment, particularly in cities, is constantly under threat. Increasing gentrification of city centres is making rents unaffordable, with major impacts on young people and low-income families.
Working together to strengthen housing rights
Most CoP members noted that education is an important way to strengthen housing rights. Tenants and landlords need to be aware of their responsibilities and rights. Legal documents and frameworks need to be more accessible to different audiences (e.g., to young people). For example, Habitat for Humanity uses small groups called ‘study circles’, where tenants can learn about and discuss their rights and how to advocate for them.
Making the language and content of these documents more accessible is not enough, however. Structures that provide support and advocacy, through courts and landlord /tenant mediation, remains vital to enable people to get their housing rights. Comic Relief’s Tech for Good funding supports groups to increase the use of technology to expand and target assistance in the United Kingdom in areas including housing advice (applications opened in January and funding is available from June 2021).
Lastly, collective mobilisation is a fundamental strategy to strengthen tenant rights. CoP members recognised that this requires leadership by tenants underpinned by a strong sense of community. Data collection is fundamental to inform discussions and have leverage with decision-makers. Development Action Group, for example, collects demographic and socio-economic information from tenants and landlords (i.e.: income levels, expenses, etc.) to inform negotiations with government and other stakeholders.
We know that CoP members work in very different contexts, yet we found many similarities in the challenges faced by CoP members to secure rights and equally many areas for shared learning. Make contact through the CoP forum to discuss the issues important to you and to share information on your experiences of what works.
In our next webinar, we will continue talking about secure and stable housing. We will be sending you updates from the CoP soon!
The CoP team