Opening doors

Housing associations are helping to end homelessness through Housing First


Image: Istock

Suzannah Young

Policy Officer, National Housing Federation

Recent National Housing Federation (NHF) research shows that housing associations can be and want to be key partners in delivering the Housing First approach to supporting homeless people into stable, long-term accommodation. This is provided that several conditions are met: long-term funding for support services; involvement from the outset in shaping policies and processes; and clear and consistent communication with external partners and internal teams.

What is Housing First?

Housing First is a housing and support approach that provides permanent housing and flexible, intensive support for individuals with complex needs, and often long-term experience of homelessness. It is one of a range of approaches to ending homelessness. It differs from traditional services because the housing and support are not conditional for the client to have a home. Individuals are not required to be housing-ready before moving in – they are given choice and control. Housing First provides a stable home from which to then address other support needs.

Social landlords providing Housing First

Homeless Link research shows that the number of Housing First services in England has grown massively in recent years (see box). This is largely thanks to the increase in social landlords offering it – and housing associations have played a huge part in that. At 56%, housing association homes account for the highest share of properties used for Housing First.

Growth of Housing First in England

Number of services

32 in 2017 >> 105 in 2020


350 in 2017 >> 1,995 individuals at any time across 87 services in 2020

Property type

61% in 2017 >> 81% social housing in 2020

Source: Homeless Link Picture of Housing First in England 2020 research

NHF research

Although there is research on the model’s success and its implementation in England, there is nothing substantive from a housing association perspective. This is significant as housing associations can be key partners in Housing First, providing much-needed, permanent homes.

To fill this gap, and given the rise in housing associations providing Housing First, we wanted to understand the role of housing associations in delivering it. We conducted research with representatives from eight housing associations about their set-up and delivery of Housing First and the key challenges and successes they had experienced.

The research gives examples of how housing associations use the model and looks at differences in service development and funding. It is of use to commissioners looking to develop Housing First or diversify their homelessness offer, the government when considering policy development on the approach, homelessness organisations examining the implementation of the model and housing associations developing a Housing First offer.

Keys to success

The research participants were keen advocates of the Housing First approach. They considered it an attractive model because it aligned with their objectives, notably on addressing all forms of housing need. The participants spoke with pride about housing some of the most vulnerable people in society and about the collaborative approach taken by commissioners, housing providers and support providers.

For housing providers, the biggest difference in the model was the availability of fully funded, wrap-around support. This made it much easier to manage tenancies and help clients to sustain them.

There were challenges, such as the time needed to foster effective partnership working, finding suitable properties and restrictions in nomination agreements. But the housing associations we spoke to were very positive about their experience of Housing First and were looking to expand their involvement.

“The housing associations we spoke to were very positive about their experience of Housing First and were looking to expand their involvement”

They were keen to be key partners alongside commissioners and support providers to deliver Housing First. They emphasised how important it was to be involved in developing the service from the outset, as commissioners and support providers could respond to the housing associations’ queries. In turn, the housing associations were able to adapt their processes to better support clients.

Our main recommendations for delivering Housing First are that the government and commissioners should ensure long-term funding of contracts for support, and that housing associations should be partners in delivery. There must be clear communication within and across partner organisations to determine the practicalities of delivery. If we are able to build on these pointers, Housing First can continue to grow and help end homelessness for many more people.

Share this page


Tackling youth homelessness


Putting people first: Manchester's Housing First pilot