Edinburgh's housing cost crisis: Why it's wrong to blame private landlords – John McLellan

As the pandemic bit, the market for short-term holiday lets collapsed and owners quickly sought to fill their empty properties with long-term tenants.

Thursday, 17th February 2022, 4:55 am
Rising housing costs are largely due to a supply problem (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Rising housing costs are largely due to a supply problem (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Tourism has yet to recover to the levels where short lets will once again be a better investment.

With hotels still in recovery mode, it’s too early to cite visitor demand for Airbnb-style accommodation as a significant factor behind the spike in private residential rents, or to pin the blame on rapacious “super-landlords” when the research published by the Evening News this week showed that 91 per cent of private rented homes are not owned by big operators.

The backbone of Edinburgh’s private domestic rental market are small operations or private individuals with additional properties as investments. Indeed, into that category fall some administration councillors and their partners.

There is no escaping the basic economic fact that prices are driven up when demand outstrips supply and if prices rise to the point of unaffordability it is a symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself. But rather than address the root causes, the answer according to an SNP MP is more regulation of the rental market when the real issue is lack of supply.

The house-building industry is often accused of adding to price inflation by holding back on construction, so-called land-banking, but the evidence here suggests developers are moving as quickly as possible to start when permissions are granted. Go to East Craigs and Cammo and see the extent of construction activity on a major site, and across the city smaller projects are moving ahead at pace.

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Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson was only half right in saying the “best way out of this emergency is to urgently increase the supply of social homes” because the shortage applies to all types and tenures, and capacity in the social rented sector is also taken up by people who want to own but can’t afford it.

As I’ve written before, only in the small print of the technical notes does the council’s shiny new City Plan 2030 admit the future blueprint does not allocate enough land to meet demand, yet this abject failure goes unmentioned by those responsible.

Forgetting the SNP’s new script, housing convener Kate Campbell this week repeated the promise to build 20,000 affordable homes by 2027, but how she proposes to build 15,000 in five years when they only managed 5,000 since 2017 when the target was set is anyone’s guess.

Even her own officers have retreated to the excuse that it was only a promise to produce a plan, not actually build them; or perhaps the SNP half of the administration has given up caring whether anyone believes its promises or not in the complacent belief that the majority of voters will back the SNP in May’s council elections because Nicola Sturgeon makes a good fist of stern television warnings.

Make no mistake, the city’s housing crisis is entirely because the Scottish government and Edinburgh Council do not have a plan to meet demand. To do so is not straightforward but it is possible, only not when projects itching to get going like the Garden District are being blocked for reasons which are hard to understand.

Blaming private landlords for the housing crisis is as much a political cop-out as the City Plan.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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