Homelessness crisis: Edinburgh Council pays out millions to private landlords while failing to tackle root of the problem – Steve Cardownie
That Edinburgh has a severe housing problem is not a matter for debate. But what the City of Edinburgh Council is doing about it most certainly is. Council officials and elected members surely must be made to realise that not enough is being done to address this crisis and the current situation has arisen partly through local authority lethargy and the inability to ‘see the big picture’.
For instance, the amount of money taken from the public purse to pay private landlords to house homeless families is nothing short of scandalous. This reliance on temporary accommodation provided by private landlords is a lazy, inadequate response to the problem and does very little to satisfy the needs of the homeless people crying out for a home of their own. Somewhere they can take pride in their surroundings and where they can plan for the future is not a great deal to ask for and council officials should be doing all in their power to provide this basic human right.
So, it is disheartening to see about £30 million per year of taxpayers’ money boosting the coffers of private landlords while affordable housing initiatives remain underfunded or unexplored by the city council. There are options on the table to provide a significant number of additional affordable homes at no cost to the council which have, until now, been summarily dismissed by council officials.
There has been no shortage of elected politicians who have taken to the pages of this newspaper to bemoan the lack of affordable housing in the city, but it is a cop-out for them to just wring their hands in despair – the homeless have had enough platitudes, what they want is action.
The consequences of the housing crisis also extend beyond the mere lack of affordable housing options. People who are housed in substandard accommodation are subjected to a whole host of social problems. They face mental health issues and reduced opportunities for education and employment which, in turn, breed social inequalities and hinder community development which has a knock-on effect on the city’s health and state of well-being.
The status quo is not an option. Local authorities should explore partnerships with institutional investment funds to leverage resources to increase the supply of affordable housing, as well as prioritising investment in social housing initiatives, directing funds towards the construction and maintenance of affordable homes for those in need.
The shortfall of homes and the lazy allocation of public money to private landlords must be addressed. By acknowledging the social problems faced by residents living in inadequate homes and embracing new ideas and approaches, the city can look forward to a more inclusive and sustainable future.
I have been lucky in that, up until now, I have never been homeless but that does not mean that I am oblivious to the desperate need to provide a safe, settled, affordable home for those in need. The city enjoys an enviable reputation as one of the best to live, work and visit in the UK and rightly so, but we cannot continue to pay lip service to the plight of Edinburgh’s homeless. What is needed is action – not words!