Before any organisation can consider developing housing for older LGBT people, they will need to establish the business case for the venture and gather evidence of need for the scheme.
Evidence of Need
It is important to prove the need for any housing development and know the communities you aim to serve. National research can show the reason for the scheme, but local evidence will be needed to convince the most nervous partners to invest into housing projects. This intelligence can be gained from LGBT charities and community groups, who are trusted by their communities and have a good overview of the issues they face.
The main way we gained intelligence was through a survey and follow-up focus groups. The survey was based on a similar one carried out by Tonic, Opening Doors Lonodn and Stonewall Housing and it clearly showed the need for an LGBT-affirmative Extra Care Scheme: many people were concerned about accessing mainstream care in the future and had not planned for a future where they might need care and support.
The research also helped us to better understand what LGBT people would like an extra care scheme to look like. For example, some people wanted to own their home, some wanted to co-own and some wanted to rent. People were in a wide range of financial situations, demonstrating how important it is to have homes available at different price points.
Before carrying out a similar project it is essential to consult with the community to ensure you understand people’s preferences and can offer a range of options so as many people as possible feel that the scheme is for them. People from different community groups need to be consulted. As a result of a low survey uptake from some communities we hosted specific focus groups for people living with HIV, people of colour and trans and non-binary people to ensure that these insights could be gathered.
The survey and focus groups were carried out during the summer of 2020, during the Covid pandemic, which meant that we relied on a range of partners and outlets, such as Manchester Evening News, to promote the exercises. On review, the majority of respondents to the survey came through social media and no one responded by mail. In future we look forward to hosting more face-to-face engagement exercises and to target people who may not be online.
Any housing scheme needs to stack up financially so be objective about different models. Be clear on capital and revenue budgets. Identify how the scheme will make savings in other areas and improve quality of life and benefit the whole city – these considerations should be recognised by councils as part of their proposal review. If a local authority will develop the scheme, then it should be on their own land rather than added expenditure of purchasing land and they should be realistic about the time involved in financial modelling and gaining approval.
Legal aspects were tricky through the process. There was lengthy discussion about whether the scheme would be LGBT-friendly, exclusive, majority or affirmative. There was confusion about what was on offer and the Equality Act implications. The advice was useful when received since it confirmed the LGBT-majority and affirmative approach. However, some interviewed view that too much time was spent getting lost in the detail which made them question if
"there would have been similar debate for other communities?"
while others explained that reassurances where needed to prevent future challenges and when so much money was being invested into the project, which was the first of its kind.
The abiding question that those interviewed for this journal wanted to ask about where to place an LGBT Extra Care Scheme is: "Why not Manchester?" The city is relatively more affordable than London and more compact in size. The city has a reputation as a cosmopolitan, diverse, welcoming city, a beacon city with a "rainbow council" overtly supportive of LGBT issues. The city has its vibrant Canal Street and ‘Gay Village’. Manchester has a longstanding LGBT population in sufficient numbers who are getting older. Many talked about the city’s progressive past, as the birthplace of Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1964 and its’ strong opposition to Section 28. The city has had the first openly gay Lord Mayor and an openly lesbian councillor. Manchester Council also has a mature commissioning approach: meeting needs of communities rather than simply delivering numbers of units. Some describe the council as leading by example with a strong record of listening to communities. It has a strong working relationship with Homes England. There are a number of LGBT charities and community groups such as LGBT Foundation within the city which have their own long history and provide the voice and partnership opportunities.
However, even in this city, the older LGBT population are experiencing challenges: they may not have family connections and they may not be best served by current services. They want more than bars and clubs and many want to move into the scheme. Unfortunately in 2020 Manchester and other cities are not a safe haven for many with hate crime and incidents still reported against LGBT people. A large LGBT population paired with a lack of provisions for older LGBT people with care needs, means there is likely higher demand for an LGBT Affirmative Extra Care Scheme in Manchester compared to other areas.
Some interviewed believed that the council may have become complacent and rested on past successes:
"I always thought they could do better"
Initially a Council owned site, with a direct bus route into the city centre, was proposed and approval to use was secured. The council was given the opportunity to purchase the site of a former hospital on Russell Road in the Whalley Range Conservation Area. The area has well established community groups, including Pride on the Range and Age Friendly Chorlton and Whalley Range. It is close to the city centre and the local district centre of Chorlton, with its independent shops and bars. Consultation with the LGBT Foundation and Stonewall Housing evidenced a preference for this second site. The site was purchased and the existing building demolished.
Whilst the Council’s preference has always been to own and develop the scheme, it did not stack up financially for a number of reasons. Following the onset of the Covid pandemic, a decision was taken for a registered social housing provider, identified through a competition, to own, develop and manage the scheme.
The competition for a land disposal on a long lease (250 years) with development agreement (requiring the developer to coproduce the extra care scheme with the LGBT Foundation) was advertised nationally. The LGBT Foundation was involved in developing the competition brief and provided their detailed opinion on the submissions to help the Council choose the preferred developer. The land disposal option was chosen as it encouraged and enabled an innovative approach to this flagship scheme. Applicants were not required to respond to a detailed specification but were required to commit to:
- Developing and managing an LGBT+ majority extra care scheme
- Forming a strategic partnership with the LGBT Foundation
- Coproduction of design and governance with the LGBT+ and Whalley Range communities
- Learning – we will continue to capture and share ongoing learning through the various stages of development – with academics and other groups developing similar schemes across the country.