Four simple ways to improve your tenants' health and wellbeing
In this new guest blog for CIH Scotland, Dr Steve Rolfe from the University of Stirling and Dr Lisa Garnham from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health provide an update on research looking at the contribution of housing organisations and staff to their tenants' health and wellbeing.
We all know that having a good home is vital for health and wellbeing – there’s lots of evidence about the health effects of homelessness and the impacts of poor housing conditions. But a home is more than four walls and a roof. Our research shows that the day-to-day practice of housing organisations and staff can make a significant difference to tenants’ health and wellbeing by shaping whether they feel at home in their tenancy.
We followed more than 70 tenants renting with three different social and private housing organisations in and around Glasgow. Our data showed that tenants’ health and wellbeing changed a lot over the first year of their tenancy.
Figure 1 – Health and wellbeing change from start of tenancy
The crucial factor for tenants was whether they felt at home and we found that there are four things that landlords could do to help.1. Have a good relationship
The tenants involved in our research told us how important it was to be able to deal with a named member of staff, who knows them personally and understands their situation. Where landlords built a positive relationship, this not only helped tenants to settle and feel at home, but also gave them confidence to get on with the rest of life – finding work, reconnecting with friends and family and trying new things.2. Focus on property quality
Property quality was important, but most tenants needed something beyond the basics, which met their varied expectations, aspirations and capacities. Some tenants told us that they needed a property which was already well furnished and decorated, while others wanted an empty shell to refurbish in their own style. So landlords need to understand these differences and give tenants the support they need.3. Being sensitive to housing costs
Rent is important, but tenants were often more stressed by other costs related to their new tenancy like decorating, furnishing and bills. Again, landlords need to have a relationship with tenants, so that they can understand their financial situation and offer appropriate support and flexibility.
4. Offer choice in location
It’s a cliché, but our research shows that location really is important. When tenants have a choice of where to live, it can make a real difference to their health and well-being, whether they want to be close to friends and family, or just somewhere peaceful and quiet.
Perhaps most importantly, we found that tenants needed all four of these basic foundations in order to settle in to their new tenancy and start to feel at home. Where any one was missing, their health and wellbeing tended to deteriorate and often they struggled to sustain their tenancy.
What does this mean in practice?
We recognise that there are challenges for all housing organisations in delivering the four points above. Which is why we co-produced our final recommendations with housing professionals, policy makers and tenants, to make sure that they were meaningful and practical.