In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, housing and economy convenor Gavin Barrie admitted Edinburgh is facing a “homeless crisis”.
Falling incomes, rising housing costs in the private market and an insufficient number of new affordable homes are the main contributors to poverty and inequality in the city.
Demand for homes currently outstrips supply with the need for between 38,000 and 46,000 new homes in Edinburgh over 10 years.
More than 60 per cent of these homes will need to be affordable.
This crisis has led to thousands of people being homed across the city in hostels, hotels and B&Bs – at a huge expense to the taxpayer.
The council’s homelessness task force has been delving into the current housing crisis and looking into alternatives that better suit the individuals affected. The proposed budget sees £2 million invested in the cross-party group to help stop using these forms of accommodation in the future.
Housing and economy convenor Gavin Barrie said: “The council fully realises the clear situation with the homeless crisis in Edinburgh. Our investment in the homelessness task force will help deal with those issues we face.
“Homelessness isn’t just those people living on the streets. It is those who do not own their own home, too. The task force has a number of ideas which we will look to incorporate into our strategy, including reducing the number of hotels and B&Bs being used as emergency accommodation.
“Yes there will be problems along the way, but those will be identified and we’re more than happy to address those issues that need fixing. We know it is a huge challenge, but it is a challenge we’re up for.”
In 2016-17 there was an average of 167 bids for every social rented home advertised through the common housing register. The council plans to meet demands by building 20,000 affordable homes within the next decade, with half of those in the next five years.
This includes a commitment to deliver around 3,000 affordable homes with integrated health, care and support services for people with complex physical and health needs.
“Unfortunately we’re not at a stage where we have a store of empty homes which we can let families stay in,” said Cllr Barrie. “In the past the council has been forced to sell off council houses at discount prices. But now we have this highly ambitious investment. We have land in the north and also in the city centre that we are looking at for the affordable housing.”
Cllr Barrie said housing more of the city’s students in HMOs (houses of multiple occupancy) to free up domestic properties for families would be good for the Capital. Silk Nightclub, on King’s Stables Road, has now closed down to make way for student accommodation and St Margaret’s House has been sold to developers with planning permission for student housing.
The council’s financial strategy sets out more than £700m of capital investment to support priorities over five years, including expanding the development of affordable housing, modernising homes and transforming frontline services.
In addition to the proposal of a three per cent increase in council tax, council tenants will see a rise of two per cent in their annual rent.
However, Tory councillor John McLellan feels there are better ways to find the funding to address the city’s issues.
He said: “The means of delivering the services is something that needs change. More can be done with working with the private sector and housing associations to manage the housing crisis. There needs to be more imagination when it comes to finding the funds that are needed.”
Cllr Barrie added: “What we are looking at doing is not just about building new homes. What we will do is reduce the cost of living for tenants and provide well managed, affordable and low cost housing.”