Edinburgh housing: Family of four forced to live in one room

WHEN Zoe Thomson learned last August that she was being forced to move out of her rented flat, she thought there would be no problem finding somewhere suitable to live.

Zoe Thomson  with her children. They are currently in emergency B&B accommodation where they all - along with zoe's partner - share the one room with no cooking facilities. Contributed
Zoe Thomson with her children. They are currently in emergency B&B accommodation where they all - along with zoe's partner - share the one room with no cooking facilities. Contributed

But even though she holds down two jobs, Zoe quickly realised her family had been priced out of the market in a city where a modest two bedroom flat costs more than £600 a month – with double that amount typically needed for advance rent and a deposit.

So she contacted the city council in good time and told them she was going to become homeless – and assumed that somewhere for her, partner John Rendall and their children, aged four and three would be made available. However, when they finally left their flat in Sighthill just after the New Year, they officially became homeless – and were shocked to be moved into one room in a bed and breakfast on the other side of the city, in Leith.

Today, the family remains stuck in one room, which comes without access to a kitchen – all they have is a kettle. Their story highlights the scale of the housing crisis in Edinburgh, where experts believe the waiting list for council homes could take up to 15 years to clear.

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On a single night in September last year, when a snapshot was taken, more than 1000 families were living in temporary accommodation in a city deemed to be one of the richest in the UK.

Zoe, 27, said the B&B room – which is no bigger than most people’s living rooms – was “unacceptable” for a family and pleaded to be moved into a suitable property.

She said they were often disturbed by police banging on doors late at night, and people sleeping in the corridors.

She said: “We can’t afford another private let, it’s just so expensive and difficult to get the money together for a deposit – that’s why we wanted to be on the council housing list.

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“Our landlord let us stay in our previous flat longer than expected because he didn’t want us to be homeless. Having a council house is a more stable option for us, but unless until we were completely homeless we weren’t seen as a priority. The room we are living in is just totally unacceptable. We are all crammed in. There’s a double bed and two single beds.

“It’s damp, it’s mouldy and we’ve heard the police coming in at night time to deal with things happening in the other rooms. One night I even opened the door to discover a man sleeping right outside.

“It’s just horrendous, we don’t feel safe. My four-year-old daughter has actually been wetting herself with fear.

“All we have is a kettle. There is a kitchen but we aren’t allowed to use it. We have no option but to take the children out to eat every night.”

Opposition councillors and homelessness charities said the Capital was in the grip of a fierce housing crisis and called on the council to stop putting families in bed and breakfasts.

Councillor Steve Burgess, housing spokesman for the city’s Greens, said: “Temporary housing for homeless people is soaring, as a perfect cocktail of rocketing rents and lack of genuinely affordable housing leaves people adrift.

“The council has a duty to provide housing for people but, increasingly, temporary accommodation is silting up as there is nowhere for people to move onto. Worst of all is being placed in bed and breakfast guest houses.

“It is where the quality is poorest, where it is hardest to maintain normal family life and it is the most expensive as well.

“That is why, for over 12 years now, councils have been effectively banned from using B&B for families, except in emergency situations.

“In 2017, it should be looking at higher-quality, better-managed self-contained flats for the short periods necessary. It then needs to focus on housing at rents which people can actually afford to move into.”

Figures out last week showed that on September 30 last year, ten homeless families with children were in B&B accommodation in Edinburgh – up from zero the previous year.

Alison Watson, deputy director for Shelter Scotland, said it was important that when families lose their homes, they are placed in good quality accommodation.

She said: “To find a family with two young children in a B&B for a week with no end in sight is a worrying sign.”

A city council spokeswoman said “The council has an ambitious plan for the development of affordable new homes, and this is a key component of our strategy to tackle homelessness in the city, together with a range of services to help people avoid becoming homeless or to support them in securing and maintaining tenancies.

“Edinburgh is a growing city and protecting vulnerable people in our population will continue to be our key priority.

“We are committed to reducing homelessness further across Edinburgh.

“A range of options to address the challenges will be presented in the spring.”