Housing and homelessness are the absolute biggest challenge that we face as a city. And we have quite a few challenges. We are seeing more and more people becoming homeless because they can no longer afford the rent charged by private landlords. I’ll say that again. Many people in our city cannot afford a home.
Working together to prevent homelessness, the council and the voluntary sector have managed to reduce the number of households becoming homeless by over a third from 5500 eight years ago to 3500 last year. But because we don’t have enough social homes for people to move into, the time that people are spending in temporary accommodation before being permanently rehoused is increasing.
We have a homelessness service that was set up to help people with complex needs, to offer extra support to vulnerable citizens, but that is now having to deal with serious market failure in housing. It wasn’t designed to do this. It’s stretched and struggling to perform its core function. This is a problem born out of a deadly cocktail of rising rents and house prices, an insecure jobs market, and the an increasingly hostile and punitive UK Government approach to benefits for those in and out of work.
Welfare reforms have slashed the incomes of people who are unable to work due to illness or disability. Universal Credit will be fully implemented in Edinburgh in the autumn. Where it has been rolled out already there has been an increase in food bank use, rent arrears and evictions. And don’t even get me started on the revolting rape clause. The message from Westminster is clear – if you are poor, you are no longer allowed dignity.
There isn’t a silver bullet to address the rising inequality created by the social and economic policies of the Tory government. But there are things we can do to mitigate the worst of it.
Through Edinburgh’s Homelessness Task Force we are looking at how to fix some of the immediate challenges in temporary accommodation. We’re improving our contract with B&Bs so that everyone will soon have access to food storage, the use of a kitchen and a washing machine. Basic I know. And not the solution. But it will improve things in the short term.
And we’re working with our housing association partners who, it is clear, really get it. Homelessness is on everyone’s radar. We’re allocating more homes to homeless people through Edindex and looking at extending the provision of temporary homes so that families do not have to be accommodated in B&Bs.
But most importantly we are building more affordable homes. More than 2000 of them are already under construction across the city with nearly 8000 more in the pipeline. We asked our tenants what they wanted us to do with the revenue from our housing. They told us that building more social homes, and investing in upgrading the ones we have, was their priority. So we’re using our own housing revenue and working together with our housing association partners and the Scottish Government to build 20,000 over the next ten years. No other partnership between a council and its local housing associations has set out such an extensive or ambitious plan. It is because of this ambition, and by working together, that we will be able to build so many homes. We are also investing to make sure existing homes and estates are brought up to the same quality as new developments.
Last month the housing and economy committee agreed to adopt a more interventionist approach when it comes to making sure badly needed homes are built on land which already has planning permission. If you own land designated for housebuilding, and you’re not building houses, compulsory purchase orders will be used.
This SNP-led council administration has made housing a priority. We will use every tool available to make sure that everyone in the city has a home they can afford.
Councillor Kate Campbell is Homelessness Champion and housing and economy convener at Edinburgh City Council