Our love-hate relationship with property is a constant source of joy for TV programmers. Watching house-hunting with jolly characters like Phil and Kirstie is far from reality for most people in a city such as Edinburgh where trying to find an affordable, liveable flat or house can become a nightmare.
Groups like Shelter Scotland and their Living Rent campaign continue to highlight the problems. I think there’s momentum for a commonsense approach to our social infrastructure.
The double whammy of a shortage of social housing and the housing “boom” has priced many young people out of the market and contributed to rapid growth in the private rented sector. Among the student population, 68 per cent live in privately rented accommodation during study, and a third of 16 to 34-year-olds rent privately.
Though some freely choose to rent, far too many have no alternative, and this is a big issue for the student-rich city of Edinburgh.
We need to address the lack of social housing, but also house prices and rental rates, and a lack of protection for tenants. As spiralling costs leave many in poverty, 18 per cent of homeless applications come from tenants leaving the private rented sector.
My colleague Patrick Harvie MSP launched his Rent Rights campaign two years ago, and I agree we need bolder action on issues including security of lease; cost of renting; energy efficiency; eviction and harassment; and transparent information about landlords and letting agents. With 13 per cent of households in Scotland living in the private rented sector, it’s time for a safer, more secure and flexible renting market.
It’s also time for the “liveability” of our communities to be addressed. How well does our infrastructure meet the needs of people today?
Transport would be high on most people’s lists of priorities. Edinburgh and the surrounding area is long overdue a commonsense approach that can reduce congestion and pollution. Rather than opening up bus lanes, we need to see more investment in public transport, more 20mph zones and better cycling and walking routes. As we build new homes and regenerate existing parts of town let’s seize the opportunity to improve and make safer the experience of getting from A to B.
Another area that constituents have raised with me during my time as a councillor as well as an MSP is outdoor space. When searching for a home, people tell me they are struck by the lack it, with space for drying washing specifically barely seen. Some new-build flats in Edinburgh, even where drying clothes wouldn’t be overlooked, have anti-drying regulations, despite concerns that hanging washing indoors can dramatically raise moisture levels in our homes.
The TV property shows emphasise location, but as our experience in Edinburgh proves, we must also get to grips with the quality of our housing.
We need to see much more effort from public and private sectors to create connected communities and accommodation that is affordable and comfortable. In other words, a house we can call a home.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian