First ever ‘gender lens’ property fund launched

Written by Natasha Turner on 16th Dec 2020

With two women killed a week by a partner or ex, and two in five women becoming homeless when leaving prison, accommodation and housing in its various forms can be vital to women in many situations.

And with 60 per cent of referrals to refuges turned away, the need for emergency, temporary and flexible accommodation is clear.

That is why this week impact investor Resonance and private equity fund Patron Capital have launched the Women In Safe Homes fund, on which they are co-managers.

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The Women In Safe Homes fund is thought to be the first ever ‘gender lens’ property fund, aiming to secure £100 million of investment over the next few years and purchase 650 refuge spaces; and temporary, move-on, or more permanent accommodation such as self-contained flats.

Meeting varying needs

“We have around 20 different providers and are set up to be quite flexible,” says Resonance property fund development manager Kay Orlopp.

“Women’s sector organisations all work fairly differently and the needs of women are also very varied, so the fund is set up to have one landlord, which is the fund, and a social landlord understanding with lease terms that are fair and risk sharing.”

One of these organisations is charity partner Preston Women’s Centre, based in Hull. Another, Orlopp says, houses women on early release from prison, meaning they tend to have short, three-month tenancies.

“Some charities are happy to take on full responsibility of the property, so fully repairing and insuring the lease whereby we’ll sort the property, lease it over to them,” Orlopp says.

“Other charities just want to be responsible for the internal so we’ll sort a lease out that reflects that. The other leasing structure we’ve got in place is a larger organisation that’s got property management experience would take the lease and then partner with a smaller one.”

A growing sector

Orlopp says Resonance works with a number of investors – councils, trusts and foundations – and is trying to break into family offices and pension funds as well.

Along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Patron’s managing director Keith Breslauer and the Lostand Foundation, a seed investor on the Women In Safe Homes fund is Big Society Capital, which invested £10 million and selected both Resonance and Patron Capital as co-managers.

“When we think about homelessness, a lot of times we think about rough sleepers, people who are quite visible on the streets, but that’s really just the surface,” says Karen Ng, investment director at Big Society Capital. “Homelessness is a lot more prevalent and a lot more hidden, especially for women.”

Ng believes there will be an increasing focus on gender-specific requirements from both listed and private investment.

And social impact property funds in general do appear to be on the rise. In April this year alternative specialist Cheyne Capital launched its second impact real estate fund, the Cheyne Impact Real Estate Trust, following the Social Property Fund it launched in 2014.

Helping towards the Global Goals

This fund works by addressing three UN Sustainable Development Goals – good health and wellbeing, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities – creating and monitoring objectives for each investment.

Ng also thinks investment will help improve the sustainability of charities, filling a gap sometimes left by banks.

Other homelessness property fund investors hold similar views. The Treebeard Trust, which invests 20% of its assets in impact, says, “The housing system in the United Kingdom is broken and the voluntary sector alone is not able to fix it. We therefore have sought out opportunities to invest where the private housing sector is working in step with the charity sector.”

An increasing need for women’s and homelessness resources has led to a rise in solutions from property funds at a time when the spotlight is shining on impact and environmental, social and governance investing, and increasing appetite from pension funds and other institutional investors.