Housing in Edinburgh is at a crossroads. After years of exponential growth in purchase prices and rent levels, the Covid pandemic has had a massive and unforeseen impact. With the collapse in tourist numbers, hundreds of short-term let properties have transferred off Airbnb and other online platforms and become available for long-term rental. The question now is whether this trend will continue and how it will play through the housing market.
Before the onset of coronavirus Edinburgh accounted for one third of Scotland’s short-term lets, with Edinburgh City Centre ward having 2,710 active Airbnb listings: 8.5 per cent of the entire Scottish total. The ward had more Airbnb listings than the whole of Glasgow and more than every other local authority area apart from Highland. This was followed by Leith Walk with 1,449, accounting for 4.6 per cent of Scotland as a whole, with the other top areas including the Edinburgh wards Southside/Newington, Inverleith, Morningside, Leith, Craigentinny/Duddingston, Sighthill/Gorgie and Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart.
A majority of people surveyed agree that there has been a reduction in homes available for general residential use, reduced affordability of housing for local people, a negative impact on parking available in the area and an increased amount of littering and waste. Meanwhile long-term rental levels have risen by nearly 50 per cent in the last decade and pressure in the house purchasing market has continued, with prices rising beyond the budgets of many people.
Edinburgh is making progress dealing with this, including a record number of new houses being built and approved by the SNP-led city council. Some 3,006 homes will be built this year, compared to 1,832 in 2017/18, while 1,930 homes have been approved compared to 1,475 in 2017/18, which is 230 above target. Scotland has seen the first increase in the number of social homes since 1980 with the end of “right to buy” and the largest building programme since the 1970s. Edinburgh Council plans to build 20,000 affordable homes over ten years.
Housing remains a top issue for people across the Capital. Affordable housing is key to offset the shortage of existing supply, but challenges including the prevalence of second homes remains a factor. The building of commercial student accommodation has freed up some supply, but developers have been exempt from affordable housing contribution, which needs to be remedied. In addition to new housing provision, there is a requirement for investment in the existing housing stock, including common repairs and energy efficiency measures. Edinburgh Council, housing associations and the Scottish Government were already looking at these challenges before the Covid-19 lockdown. As we progress towards a green and fair recovery, housing remains a key priority.
During the next months the Scottish Government will fast track new powers to local authorities including the ability to set up “short-term let control areas”. This follows reports that only one in 500 Airbnb listings in the city have proper planning permission and the effective lobbying of Edinburgh SNP parliamentarians for proper safeguards. On rental increases powers also exist for areas to be designated rent pressure zones which can cap how much private rents are allowed to increase.
As Scotland moves towards independence and Edinburgh as its sovereign capital, everyone in the city must be able to enjoy the benefits this will bring including affordable and quality housing to rent and buy.
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