The City of Edinburgh Council has led the way in Scottish local authorities using new funding methods to provide much-needed new homes.
For those that remember the city’s council housing programmes of former decades, much has changed in today’s housing landscape. Some good, some not so good. On the one hand, it is recognised that some of the housebuilding programmes from the 1950s to 1970s left us with some real headaches of badly designed, poor quality and unpopular neighbourhoods. On the other hand, what is being built now is often available only at higher rents than most council housing and may not be within reach of the people in greatest housing need within the city.
Shelter Scotland believes that a critical test of any affordable housing programme is how well it meets the needs of the 20 per cent of people who are on the lowest incomes. We understand there are two scenarios that Edinburgh City councillors will be looking at next week with regards to future housing development in the city. We would encourage councillors to choose the option that delivers the most homes at council-level rents.
Whatever route councillors choose, it will only expand the affordable housing supply programme from 1400 to 1800. So a wider package of housing reform and investment is needed. At the heart of this is the principle that what starts out as affordable housing must stay affordable. Shelter Scotland would like to see councils and housing associations retain a stake in homes in the long term so they remain earmarked as affordable.
In addition, all councils need to look at the problems caused by 30 years of Right to Buy in Scotland. The official death knell for this landmark Thatcherite policy may now be confirmed as August 2016 here in Scotland, but the impact it has had on the level of affordable social housing in Scotland will linger on much further. There are more than 150,000 people on council waiting lists for a home across the country.
A final key area for consideration for any new housing strategy must be the issue of empty homes. I am delighted the council has decided to employ an Empty Homes Officer to work at bringing unused or neglected properties back into use. As the host of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, which is funded by the Scottish Government, Shelter Scotland is committed to getting best value from the national Empty Homes Loan Fund to make sure some of the empty homes brought back into use across the city are available to people on lower incomes.
The Capital’s housing crisis has been decades in the making and it will not be solved overnight. But, with concerted effort, innovative thinking and bold ambition, Edinburgh can begin to move in the right direction.
• Graeme Brown is director of Shelter Scotland