Sarah Boyack: We must beat housing crisis

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If you wished for a case study of how the financial crisis has impacted the lives of people in Edinburgh, consider how the market failure in housing has had a profound impact.

The banking crash fundamentally altered the landscape, affecting the availability of mortgages, and making it more expensive to develop sites, whether for private homes or for new affordable social housing.

The people most affected by these changes are low income households and vulnerable groups, long priced out of ownership. They find it increasingly difficult to let privately and are applying to join social housing lists in their droves.

Over 25,000 people are already on waiting lists and housing is now among the most common issues raised with me by constituents. The proliferation of zero hours contracts and the fact that many people are now holding down two, or even three, jobs make it harder to pay for housing and rising utility bills.

During the summer I’ve been meeting with housing associations to discuss their plans. I’ve also been asking them how they are supporting their tenants to cope with the impact of the bedroom tax and welfare changes. Shortage of finance is key.

On the one hand the Scottish Government has cut funding for new housing by 35 per cent in four years, while on the other, finance from the banks has dried up and where it is available it is on vastly inflated terms.

The result? Scottish Government statistics published this week show that house building is at its lowest point since the end of the Second World War. There’s a lack of vision.

Here in Edinburgh the availability of housing has been an acute problem for years and the need is now greater than ever. The city’s new local development plan has identified the need for 1,800 homes to be built each year up to 2024. But in each of the last four years an average of only 1,100 homes has been delivered.

It is not just about the number of homes. We need different types of houses to meet a range of needs. We need new housing for young families, single dwellers and to factor in older people’s changing needs. Changing demographics demand a range of options for care homes and sheltered housing.

With housing associations already under significant strain, the UK Government’s Welfare Reform agenda, including the bedroom tax, presents further real challenges.

The Council’s decision not to evict tenants as a result of the bedroom tax and to allocate staff to provide direct support tenants is welcome. But the bedroom tax has already meant rent arrears are rocketing. The scarcity of suitable housing in Edinburgh underlines why it’s a fundamentally flawed policy, leaving tenants trapped by debt and exacerbating already tight budgets for social housing.

In the face of such profound challenges we need a change of direction from the Scottish and UK Governments. We need new homes if we are to address the housing crisis and meet demand.

• Sarah Boyack is a Lothians list MSP