Susan Aktemel, founder of the UK’s first social enterprise letting agency

We meet the founder of the UK's first social enterprise letting agent

Homes for Good finds and creates homes for people on low incomes in Glasgow, with half its clients on housing benefits and the investment arm of the business renovating homes to plug the social housing gap. The values-driven business works to make sure both landlords and tenants get a transparent, ethical and kind service, subverting the reputation of letting agents everywhere.

My eyes were opened to the extent of poverty that there was in the city, and I hadn’t been aware of that growing up

Homes for Good is the second social business launched by Aktemel, 50, who as a languages graduate went on to teach adult literacy in some of Glasgow’s most deprived communities. “My eyes were opened to the extent of poverty that there was in the city, and I hadn’t been aware of that growing up,” she says. “I decided I wanted to focus on doing something within communities and helping people improve their lives.”

In 1994 she launched community arts management agency Impact Arts. Aktemel led the business from strength to strength for 18 years until 2012; having built up a portfolio of properties as a private landlord she was growing increasingly frustrated with poor and dishonest service from letting agents.

She already wanted a change in her career and was keen to start a new organisation, so the Homes for Good model she’d devised seemed the perfect fit.

Her new venture started as a logo, some posters and a £10 pay-as-you-go mobile phone that Aktemel used to take business calls while she worked out of a local cafe. Setting up the social enterprise was an exhilarating but relatively straightforward process, she says, and it started trading from her house in 2013.

Shortly afterwards Aktemel turned her focus to the investment side of the business. She wanted to create homes for people on low incomes, many of whom were stuck on seemingly endless social housing waiting lists.

“Crucially it’s our work with people on housing benefits and the thorough support we provide for the vulnerable people we work with. I’m proud of that.”

She laughs: “I thought, I’ll set up not one business, but two. I pitched to an investment panel down in London and one of them was an advisor to Barack Obama, who was US president at the time. He told me in front of 200 people that running two businesses at the same time was a bad idea and nobody could do it. I should really get back in touch.”

It was a challenge to secure investors, Aktemel explains, and it took another two years to get this part of the business operating. But it meant that as soon as she got the green light she was able to “take really run-down homes and make them beautiful” while keeping the rent costs within the budget of someone on housing benefits.

What really makes Homes for Good stand out? “What we do is what every letting agent should do,” she replies. “We know exactly what we’re doing in terms of property management so on a commercial level alone we’re a great bet. We know how to select the right tenants and protect landlords’ investments.

“But crucially it’s our work with people on housing benefits and the thorough support we provide for the vulnerable people we work with. I’m proud of that.”

“We actively welcome people on housing benefits.

Homes for Good currently has a portfolio of nearly 500 homes in and around Glasgow, from penthouses on Glasgow Green to studio flats in Wishaw in North Lanarkshire. Around half of the tenants it works with are on housing benefits. Some landlords are so pleased by the social enterprise creating homes for people who really need them that they have asked the business to rent their property to people who have been homeless.

“We actively welcome people on housing benefits. They face a lot of discrimination, especially with private rents,” Aktemel says.

We look carefully to ensure that people can afford to live in the property

“We look carefully to ensure that people can afford to live in the property and that their benefits will cover all the different costs. We don’t want to set anyone up to fail.”

Homes for Good has a tenancy support team that helps tenants on low incomes and housing benefits. They support people with everything from benefit claims and cooking to applying for education and getting mental health support.

DID YOU KNOW…

Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

The social enterprise also works in partnership with organisations such as Simon Community, Glasgow City Mission and the Wise Group. They might refer people to Homes for Good or lease properties from them directly to make sure their client has a decent, affordable home.

Aktemel says: “That’s the real win-win. We’re creating the social impact we want to create but with the benefit of having increased support around the tenant.”

Currently in development are plans to roll out the Homes for Good model across the UK. But the founder’s priority is ensuring the continued steady growth of the social enterprise, building a reputation as the people to go to if you want your property rented out easily and ethically or if you want an affordable home from someone you can depend on.

A bright future after Homes for Good wins major award for pioneers of social change

01Last week it was announced that the Homes for Good founder is one of the winners of the Cambridge Social Innovation prize, awarded by Trinity
Hall and Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation.

02As a result of the prize, which celebrates people creating real social change, Aktemel will benchmark her own business’s practice with other European cities (she’s considering Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona).

03She’ll also undergo executive training in investment, while Aktemel and her senior team will receive additional support. Homes for Good will also develop a new investment fund as a result of winning the prize.

Image: Lyndon Hayes

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