Edinburgh housing crisis: Disabled mum forced to live in a cramped single room with her family 'fighting a losing battle'

The family couldn’t get a private let after offering a year’s rent upfront.
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A disabled Edinburgh mum who has been living in a cramped single room with her family for six months says she is ‘fighting a losing battle’ to find a home.

The 61-year-old, who wants to remain anonymous, had always rented privately but was forced to move out of her home in May when the landlord put it up for sale. The former NHS worker moved into a relative’s spare room while searching for another rented property.

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But the pensioner and her husband who are both retired said it was 'impossible’ to get a home, despite offering a year’s rent upfront from their life savings. She said they had no option but to present as homeless. Now six months on, the couple are still sharing a single bedroom at a family member's house with their 23-year-old daughter who sleeps on a blow-up mattress on the floor. Their clothes are in black bin bags, while all their belongings are in storage.

The Edinburgh family has been crammed into a single room for six monthsThe Edinburgh family has been crammed into a single room for six months
The Edinburgh family has been crammed into a single room for six months

She said the family feels hopeless as they struggle to get an affordable, permanent home in the city. Along with more than 5,000 stuck in temporary accommodation in the Capital, she has to “bid” for suitable properties through the council website every week.

She said: “I feel frustrated and angry at the sheer incompetence of the council. Homes sit empty for far too long and they could help families sooner if they get a grip of that. I worked all my life, right through the Covid pandemic managing appointments in a busy ward at the Western General hospital. We've never once missed a bill payment. But when we tried to get another rented home we were treated like second class citizens, because we now only have our pension as income. We offered a year of rent upfront from life savings but still, we got nowhere. Once we turned up to view a property and there were about 50 people in the queue outside. We knew then we didn’t have a hope in hell.

"We registered as homeless and have been trying to get a home ever since but it feels like we are fighting a losing battle. I have put in bids on dozens of properties. Every week there are about 50 homes available with about 200 people bidding on each one. We had already signed up to bid for council homes because at our age, we knew it’d be hard to buy and rents are so high now.

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"Then when we registered as homeless, we got points allocated as priority, but they took away the points we already had built up. It's so unfair. Why penalise people, at a time when they most need help? People don’t see us as homeless because we are not out on the streets. But we don't have a home.”

The woman has called on the council to do more to help the city's homeless families. She showed the Evening News the properties she put bids on. Out of a total of 41 properties that were listed in August, 12 showed as ‘awaiting allocation’ three months later. While 12 of the remaining 29 were still showing as ‘on offer’.

She said: "It’s a shambles. We have seen homes still sitting empty months after being allocated. The council needs to overhaul the whole thing and get a grip of empty properties. They should be chasing contractors once they hand over the keys. We are stuck in this limbo and it’s really hard on all of us. My husband has become depressed. He’s at the end of his tether. I try not to let it wear me down but it has definitely made my health worse. I hardly sleep so I’m shattered. I’m desperate to get my own space back, our own bedroom, all my own things and not have to get my clothes out of a black bin bag.”

Councillor Jane Meagher, housing, homelessness and fair work convener, said: “It’s unacceptable that people don’t have a warm, comfortable place to live and sleep, which is why we recently declared a housing emergency. Close to 5,000 households including many children will need to live in temporary accommodation this Christmas, because of this housing shortage.

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“Rents are being driven up, the cost of living continues to put pressure on household bills and homelessness is rising. We have ambitious house building plans, but we face rising construction costs as a result of inflation and difficulties securing land. This is against a backdrop of Edinburgh having the lowest proportion of homes for social rent in all of Scotland – there are roughly 200 bids for each socially-rented home.

“Tackling empty homes is also a major priority for us and we’re starting to see a real return on our housing officers’ efforts. At least 117 homes have been brought back into use in the last month alone. Void homes are, in many cases, completely uninhabitable without significant investment and specialist renovation. So, while these renovations can take time, I’m very keen to make sure we keep momentum going.”

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