Adam McVey: What’s behind Edinburgh’s affordable housing boom

Homelessness is a complex problem that won't be solved by building houses alone.
Homelessness is a complex problem that won't be solved by building houses alone.
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The coalition is driving the most ambitious expansion of affordable housing that Edinburgh has ever seen, writes council leader Adam McVey.

The council’s SNP/Labour administration is now six months old. We’ve been working hard on a number of issues like tackling the backlog of people waiting for social care services, improving public transport, sharpening up core services such as waste services, roads and pavements and providing support for our festivals and cultural venues. While we’ve been busy across the board, we have still put housing front and centre of our plans for the city over the next five years.

Adam McVey

Adam McVey

Building 20,000 affordable homes in the next decade (10,000 in the next five years) is the most ambitious expansion of affordable homes the Capital has ever seen. The council has already made inroads in our first six months and there are currently around 2,000 affordable homes over 33 sites under construction now. The ‘city region deal’ will also unlock almost £250 million in new investment in affordable units and another £50m to help accelerate private sector developments in the city which will deliver more affordable homes within those sites. Cllr Gavin Barrie is also working hard with housing associations partners and others to ensure their housebuilding programmes help contribute to the overall solution and help us meet our collective aspiration.

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Another key policy is to end the use of bed-and-breakfasts for temporary accommodation. This again is a hugely ambitious aim. There are regularly more than 500 individuals and families temporarily housed in BnB accommodation simply because there’s nowhere else for them to go. We are unequivocal, this must end. While the city’s homeless problems are certainly linked to the supply of affordable homes, which our housebuilding programme will help alleviate, there are other issues contributing to the problem. Benefits changes have meant that homelessness created by the private sector has become a major feature in the last few years, with a combination of rent increases and the benefits cap making many private rents unfordable. The council is working hard to make sure that the discretionary housing budgets we have are used to prevent people becoming priced out of their homes and to ensure the proper advice and support is available. As well as preventing homelessness occurring, this month the council, along with housing association partners, committed to supplying an additional 275 homes over an 18-month period. These homes will be used to house people who would otherwise have found themselves in BnB temporary accommodation. This could potentially halve the number of people in that situation and may take us much closer to our goal. We know for this to work it will require investment to support people in new tenancies and I’m delighted that some of the money raised from the Sleepout in the Park will be used to help provide this. While it’s appealing to simplify the issue of homelessness as one solved by more homes, we know there a host of issues contributing to the problem.

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That’s why we formalised the creation of Edinburgh’s homelessness taskforce. Cllr Kate Campbell is leading this group to delve into the issues, look at the council’s services, and provide a roadmap to take the city forward. The first recommendations from the taskforce are due in 2018 but we need to be realistic. This will not be a quick or easy process. Still, our hope is that by putting these issues top of our agenda we can make substantial and sustained progress so by next winter, many more people have a secure home of their own.