Gina Davidson: Failing the test of real charity

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CHARITY is supposed to begin at home. But what if your home is actually owned by a charity?

It beggars belief that when people on social security and low incomes are faced with the bedroom tax, cuts to working tax credits and other payments, when housing associations are unable to build the hundreds of affordable homes needed in Edinburgh each year and the number of all new homes being built has dropped by 16 per cent in the last year, when private rents are surging upwards, a charity takes the decision to evict families from its properties.

More than 200 tenants in Lorne Street are facing eviction from their homes by landlord, the Agnes Hunter Trust – a charitable trust which gives grants to other organisations which support people with health problems, especially cancer, and others which help the disabled and disadvantaged into training and work.

The way it funds its grants is through its property portfolio. In Leith it owns around 100 flats built by Samuel Hunter, a stonemason, in the 1870s and which have been let out to tenants ever since. When Agnes Hunter died in 1954 her will established the trust which was to operate using the rental income from the flats.

So tenants’ rents were put at the heart of the trust’s good deeds.

Of course times are hard for charities too as the recession has seen their pots shrink considerably. Yet to deal with this the trust has decided to kill the goose that lays the golden egg and wants to sell its properties.

And so hundreds of people could lose their homes. Some have lived there for decades. Some have young children enrolled at nearby schools. They are, without doubt as their campaign group name states, the Lorne Street Community. Yes, communities evolve and change, but it’s usually by a process of osmosis – not a mass clearance of residents.

There has been some relenting on the timescale, with the trust giving the tenants four months – not the 12 which was asked for – to come up with a plan which could involve the creation of their own housing association to buy the properties over. The likelihood of this succeeding without support from official channels is zero.

So there’s a petition – which I would urge you to sign as more than 900 have already done – on Edinburgh council’s website asking for help. This could be the council’s first co-operative housing project if it can help this community hold on to their homes while at the same time creating a new social housing tier.

Or perhaps another, already well established housing association, could take on the properties and allow people to stay put?

After all where will they go? It’s a question which doesn’t appear to be bothering the governors of the trust too much.

It’s hard to believe that Agnes Hunter would approve of this course of action. Harder still that her father – who obviously made his money through private rented accommodation – would want to see his property “empire” flogged off for short-term gain.

City property price madness

IT’S no surprise that house sales in West Lothian are on the rise – homes are being sold 17 per cent faster than in the rest of the country – given the continuing ridiculous nature of Edinburgh’s property market.

Sadly if you want a decent-sized family home with a garden you have to move out of town. Figures showing that more than a quarter of those living in West Lothian work in Edinburgh proves the point. As does the fact that a detached home in the Capital costs an average of £400,000 while it’s half that in West Lothian.

Edinburgh property developers’ rush to build flats rather than family homes in the boom years is proving a folly.

Turnip’s for carving

HALLOWE’EN is coming – and with it will be the usual intricate carving of monster pumpkins to make scary faces. Instead, why not be more “traditional” and give them a rock-solid turnip and a spoon to gouge it with and see how spooked they are by that idea.

Levy is a must for Capital tourist trade

As has been said over and over again, many major tourist destinations around the world have a visitor levy and the idea that an extra £1 a night on accommodation would put people off their trip to Edinburgh is nonsense.

The only issue is the practical application of the tax. While the large hotels will find it straightforward, the smaller ones, B&Bs, guest houses, backpacker hostels might not be quite so ready to implement it quickly.

A phased approach will be needed, which is why the Scottish Government should give the council the green light on this – and quickly.

Another boss takes exit door

“WHO knows how long finance chief Alastair Maclean will remain after not getting the top job?” – a question I asked back in June when Edinburgh council was shedding directors faster than a Scotsman getting his top off at the first glimpse of sun.

Now we have the answer – four months. Maclean, who had his frustrations with the practices of the council and its sluggish response to change, is bailing out. New chief executive Andrew Kerr’s job just got made even harder.