The Prince of Wales officially opened Reuben House in Peckham, south London, on Tuesday morning. The independent living programme allows young people aged between 18 and 24 to live in affordable housing with rent capped at a third of their take-home pay.
The project is the brainchild of Centrepoint – Prince William is a patron of the youth homelessness charity – and residents started moving into the 50 flats in February.
The royal, who demonstrated his commitment to tackling homelessness last year when he spent a day selling The Big Issue, met residents to hear their stories as he formally opened the project.
Sally Orlopp, Centrepoint’s director of independent living, said: “It was fabulous. I think he’s positive, really positive.
“I think he is keen to understand more about the perpetual cycle of youth homelessness and actually it is different to general homelessness because you don’t tend to see many young people sleeping rough. It tends to be hidden homelessness, so sofa surfing, sleeping at a mates or maybe in a hostel.
“He’s genuinely keen to understand homelessness better and to make a voice for homelessness that is maybe changing the way the narrative currently is.”
Reuben House is intended to tackle the cost of living and rising rents to prevent young people from falling into homelessness.
The Independent Living Programme charges a young person approximately one-third of their salary as rent. Each resident of Reuben House has to have a job or be in a full-time apprenticeship.
That means typically a 20-year-old young person in London earning a minimum wage of around £7.49 an hour or £1,298 a month would pay around £432 per month to live in a self-contained apartment. The cheapest rental property in the area available on popular listings website Rightmove comes in at more than double that amount: one listing for a single room in a shared house for £900 a month.
Centrepoint’s intention is to work with ethical employers to ensure young people are earning above minimum wage, which would typically mean someone in London earning £18,000 per year would pay around £500 per month to live independently.
The move is designed to protect young people from London’s sky-high rents. According to the most recent Office for National Statistics figures, rents in London have risen by 5% in the last year while Rightmove found the average asking rent has risen above £2,500 a month for the first time.
The two-story development, which is named after the Reuben Foundation which donated over £1 million to the project, is also designed to keep running costs low.
The use of solar panels across the roofs of both buildings are intended to boost energy efficiency and keep heating bills down to an estimated £200 a year per flat, the charity said.
The scheme is the first in Centrepoint’s plans to provide 300 young people with homes of their own in London and Manchester by 2026.
“We need four things for independent living. One is money, obviously, and we need to raise £30 million,” said Orlopp.
“The second is jobs and, thirdly, we need land, we need buildings – we look at everything, mortuaries, disused car parks, you name it. The fourth is, obviously, we need young people and we could have filled Reuben House 10 times over.
“So that’s really the journey of independent living and where we are now, but the next stage of independent living is that we want this to become a movement.”
Prince William’s visit comes in the week that the charity joined around 100 others in calling for the government to develop a specific strategy to end youth homelessness.
Charities including YMCA, LGBTQ+ homelessness charity akt and New Horizon Youth Centre (NHYC) warned youngsters are at increasing risk of falling into homelessness. In 2022 almost 130,000 16–24-year-olds across the UK asked their local council for support to avoid homelessness, up from 122,000 the previous year.
The collective has asked political parties to commit to a strategy in manifestos ahead of next year’s general election with a focus on prevention, housing and young peoples’ finances.
Phil Kerry, chief executive of NHYC said: “Homelessness isn’t a mystery or senseless, it’s a direct outcome of the systems that are meant to protect us all failing. When people don’t have the ability or support to advocate for themselves and push for help, they fall through the cracks. The severity of the situation requires a bolder and youth-specific response.
“Adopting a youth homelessness strategy, based on the evidence from the sector, would directly transform the lives and futures of young people in the UK, something any government would be proud of.”
If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.