Ben Macpherson: We must relieve pressure on rents

Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith
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For many across Edinburgh, and in cities throughout the country, renting a home is becoming less affordable. Budgets are increasingly stretched and often the last thing people need is a rent hike, pricing them out of decent housing in their area. Many people have come to me over recent months facing exactly this problem.

There are of course a multitude of reasons for the rising costs of renting in Edinburgh – from a rapidly growing population and increasing demand for housing in key areas of the city to an increase in buy-to-rent property purchases; from a rise in student accommodation to more holiday lets (as websites like AirBnb become ever-more popular): the demand on Edinburgh’s property market is stark and for many the situation is simply unaffordable.

The high cost of renting in Edinburgh is fairly unique within Scotland. Edinburgh has the biggest private rented sector in Scotland – and the number of people reliant upon rented accommodation is increasing, house prices continue to rise and more people are unfairly priced out of the homeownership market. And to add to this, experts are predicting a 20 per cent increase in rental costs over the next five years – on top of the 25 per cent increase we’ve seen in the last six years. The situation is undesirable and unsustainable.

One of the potential solutions to this problem would be to create Rent Pressure Zones in Edinburgh, something strongly championed by SNP Councillor Kate Campbell, discussed by Edinburgh City Council last month and backed by the SNP council group. The Scottish Government legislated last year to give councils the power to create Rent Pressure Zones. Edinburgh City Council has an opportunity to act and support tenants in those areas of the city that have seen rents rise at exponential levels.

When implemented elsewhere, rent pressure zones and similar moves have had a largely positive impact on the housing market. Obvious examples come from the US where rent controls have ensured that apartments and flats in cities, such as New York, have remained more affordable for more people.

By having a targeted programme of Rent Pressure Zones, we can protect tenants in our city living in areas that have seen the most significant rent hikes in recent years, for example in Leith. We can also keep vibrant and emerging areas affordable for both those who have lived in the community for years and those who have moved to the area and played a role in developing it – like those working in Edinburgh’s remarkable creative industries, those running innovative start-up businesses or young professionals beginning their careers. Keeping rents low in key areas will benefit all of our society, and help ensure tenants receive a fairer deal for the flats and houses that they call home.

We have to remember that high rents often take money out of our local economy and away from working parents trying to make ends meet. They force students and young people into working longer hours and hamper possibilities for saving for a deposit. They force people out of areas they’ve called home for years and away from communities that support them. They exploit those working hard to make our city the great place that it is and, at the extreme end, I know of cases where people have had to declare themselves homeless and use food banks as a result of increases to their rent. This cannot go on.

Ever rising rental costs in Edinburgh are negatively affecting our society and damaging the wellbeing of our city – it’s time for action and Rent Pressure Zones can have a meaningful role to play in making our city both fairer and even more successful. Let’s make sure we use the power, create Rent Pressure Zones and make living in Edinburgh more affordable for all.

Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith