Give us some Parisian imagination to tackle housing emergency - Susan Dalgety

Two newspaper articles struck me recently. One in the New York Times, the other in this newspaper. The American story was about the French government’s successful efforts to keep the city of Paris affordable for low and middle income residents.
The distinctive rows of houses which make up the Stockbridge Colonies in Edinburgh (Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith/SWNS)The distinctive rows of houses which make up the Stockbridge Colonies in Edinburgh (Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith/SWNS)
The distinctive rows of houses which make up the Stockbridge Colonies in Edinburgh (Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith/SWNS)

One quarter of Paris residents now live in government-owned housing, with the rent for new-build flats, complete with gym and child care centre and views of the Eiffel Tower, only £500 a month (600 euros).

“Our guiding philosophy is that those who produce the riches of the city must have a right to live in it,” says Ian Brossat, who served as the city’s housing chief for 10 years, and is now a senator in the French Senate.

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And every Thursday the city’s current housing boss, Councillor Jacques Baudrier runs through the Paris equivalent of the ESPC, checking what is on sale. He has the power to pre-empt a private house sale and buy the property for the city council to rent out to someone on the waiting list. He also has annual budget of £534 million.

The other story was last week’s Evening News feature about the Stockbridge Colonies.

These iconic homes can be found in ten areas of the city from Slateford to Lochend. They were built as homes for skilled workers in the wake of the housing crisis caused by the Industrial Revolution which saw the Capital’s population nearly double.

The company responsible for the majority of the Colonies was the Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company Ltd, set up in 1861 by a group of tradesmen determined to build homes fit for their fellow artisans.

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The houses, which sold for only £100 when they were built, can now sell for upwards for £325,000 for a two bedroom upper flat in Leith Links putting them out of reach for many Edinburgh families.

But the principle behind the Colonies remains as valid today as it was 160 years ago – good quality, affordable housing for the people who make Edinburgh work.

Edinburgh has a housing emergency, just as it did in the mid-1800s and just as Paris has today. Like the French capital, it is a successful city attracting visitors from across the world. But they require somewhere to stay while spending their tourist dollars, so the demand for short-term lets has gone up.

Affluent housebuyers have, over recent decades, helped fuel a property boom, and rents are now unaffordable for many. And there is a crisis in social housing. A recent council report stated that only 500 social and affordable homes a year can be built in the city due to a gap in grant funding. We need thousands.

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Edinburgh plumbers and stone masons found a brilliant solution to the housing emergency of the late 1800s. Paris councillors – working with central government – have shown that you can make a great city affordable for all, not just a privileged elite.

Why can’t the SNP government, working with the city council, bring the same imagination and determination to tackling Edinburgh’s housing emergency? Scotland’s housing minister, Paul McLennan is no stranger to these parts. He represents East Lothian, and has lived in Dunbar all his life. He works in Edinburgh city centre. What is stopping him from ending Edinburgh’s housing emergency?