Activism

There’s a letting agency actually trying to fix the housing crisis. Here’s how

“Almost all letting agents see the landlord as their customers. But it’s actually the tenants who are the customers,” says Homes for Good founder Susan Aktemel

The hallmarks of the housing crisis are well known by now: a lack of affordable properties, with what’s left squalid and low-quality, while other homes sit empty. But a Glasgow letting agent is cutting through the Gordian knot holding people in homelessness, and has provided homes for 1,000 people in the process.

Since being founded in 2013, Homes for Good has been on a mission to transform neglected empty houses into good quality homes for people on low incomes – a “letting agency with a difference”.

“Almost all letting agents see the landlord as their customers. But it’s actually the tenants who are the customers,” says founder Susan Aktemel.

Its model is aimed at addressing a lack of good, low-cost housing in the city. When it launched, Just 3 per cent of approximately 500 two-bedroom properties on the market were both affordable and accessible to people on benefits. And the situation has got worse, says Aktemel.

Wider efforts have been taking place to address the Scottish housing crisis. An emergency rent freeze and eviction ban will last until March, temporarily protecting residents from significant rent increases. However, this is set to end on April 1, with no extension planned

In the meantime, demand continues to outstrip supply. Students at the University of Glasgow found themselves scrambling for accommodation, with one flat attracting 500 applications in a matter of hours. The university told students unable to find somewhere to live not to register for their courses.

Aktemel sees a clear driver: “At the end of the day there aren’t enough homes to go round.”

The properties Homes for Good renovates are high quality, with an interior designer working with tenants to create the look and feel of the property inside.

glasgow housing, homes for good
The interior of a Homes for Good property. Image: Homes for Good

All this ensures tenants have a decent quality of life once they’ve moved in. The idea got its start a decade ago, when Aktemel – a landlord – grew unhappy with letting agents she was working with.

“I realised my tenants also weren’t getting a good deal. I came up with the idea for a letting agency where, what would it look like if a letting agency was run as a social enterprise,” she says.

“There was an opportunity to create something that was far, far better than anything else that was available for people.”

In total, it has developed 330 homes and manages 220 more. And now its work has been recognised with an international UN award, at the World Habitat Awards.

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Judge Leilani Farha, global director of The Shift, which campaigns for housing as a human right, said: “Homes for Good challenges the idea that a good return on investment in housing requires steep rents. 

“Instead, they’ve developed an effective business model investing in buildings which they upgrade and provide at affordable rates for people with the lowest incomes. At a time when decent, low-cost housing is scant, Homes for Good is exactly the type of social enterprise the world needs more of.”

Homes for Good has even provided a lifeline for a family of Ukrainian refugees. Ina and her son Svet lived in a hotel after fleeing the Russian invasion, with Ina’s husband staying to fight.

Arriving in Glasgow in May 2022, Ina and 11-year-old Svet had moved into a property managed by Homes For Good by August. The agency provided furniture, benefits, and welfare to help them settle in. Now, Svet’s room has been painted yellow, and Ina has joined a Ukrainian street football team, leading them to an international tournament for women.

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An investment from Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue, has helped Homes for Good buy and renovate more properties. As a shareholder, Big Issue Invest has invested £3.5m in the social enterprise.

Winning a Gold World Habitat award, organised by World Habitat and UN-Habitat, will give Homes for Good £10,000 and the opportunity to share their knowledge with others around the world.

The business can be a challenge – making homes affordable while generating enough income to keep things going in the future. But Aktemel thinks the model can inspire others.

“Leading by example is really important,” she says.

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