Edinburgh housing crisis: Summit agrees city needs special approach to combat housing crisis

Summit at Scottish Parliament hears shortage of supply is fundamental problem behind Edinburgh’s housing crisis
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The scale of Edinburgh's housing problems means the Capital needs a distinctive solution tailored to its needs, a summit on the city's housing crisis has agreed.

MSPs, housing associations, tenants' representatives, the city council, Scottish Government and campaign groups came together at the Scottish Parliament to discuss issues ranging from the shortage of affordable housing to the growing problem of damp and mould, student accommodation pressures and homelessness.

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Housing Minister Paul McLennan was among those taking part. He said he recognised a "nuanced approach" was needed to address the particular housing problems in Edinburgh and promised to work with others to achieve that. Edinburgh Western Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who convened the summit, said there was a £400 million discrepancy between the amount of funding Edinburgh currently gets for housing, and the amount needed to address the sea of unmet need in the Capital. And he pointed out damp and mould complaints had shot up by 895 per cent.

Damp and mould complaints have shot up by 895 per cent in three years.Damp and mould complaints have shot up by 895 per cent in three years.
Damp and mould complaints have shot up by 895 per cent in three years.

Gordon McRae from campaign group Shelter said the multiple housing problems in the city meant the Capital had "competing crises". He said: "The average wait for a couple with a child in temporary accommodation is over 700 days in Edinburgh. It takes years in temporary accommodation to get that first tenancy. The system in Edinburgh is broken. We have the Accounts Commission saying the supply of housing is not sufficient to meet demand and yet we are reducing not increasing the resources from central government for social housing and we are seeing a development plan that is in our view too slow to address the needs here in the city."

Betty Stevenson, convener of Edinburgh Tenants Federation, highlighted the poor condition of some housing. "When there's mould and damp they're sending a painter to paint over it - that does not solve the problem. Most of these problems need the whole wall to be stripped back and redone. It needs to be done properly to bring these houses up to scratch. There's over 900 in Edinburgh that need to be brought up to scratch, but we need the money in the council to do it."

Robyn Kane, chair of the Mordeun Multis and Maisonettes Residents Association, spoke of the thousands of new homes being built in the south of the city where many existing residents were struggling with damp. She said: "It feels a slap in the face to people who are watching these grandiose buildings going up and they're sitting in their one-bedroom flats with their children that have mould in them or they can't afford to heat or the heat is escaping through the windows that are 23 years old."

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And she said: "We've been having these conversations for year. The council and the parliament are aware of the situation and nothing is really changing. It's like two classes, Edinburgh – there's the city centre where all the money goes in because it makes the city look great fro the Festival and the tourists then you come out to the suburbs where people are struggling to heat their homes and feed themselves."

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson argued all housing, regardless of tenure, should be regarded as “collective infrastructure”. He said: “We are seeing some very critical and acute issues right now, but the fundamental drive at the base of this is that our housing supply is low. Until we address the supply issue, we are chasing symptoms rather than causes.”

Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald referred to a pilot programme in Wester Hailes, where 1,300 flats over 169 blocks were getting external cladding, new roofs and internal drains moved to the outside of the buildings. "Tenants who have been through their first winter have said they saw substantial reductions in their heating bills, in one case as much as 80 per cent, and some said they didn't have any heating on at all."

City council housing convener Jane Meagher said she had been "very heartened" by the summit discussions. "There seems to be a consensus that what we need for Edinburgh is a tailored solution, a nuanced solution to the problems we face." She told the meeting: "I don't want to sit here and defend the kind of accommodation our tenants are forced to live in because it is indefensible."

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When she took on the role she was "horrified" at the extent of the homelessness problem in the city. "It's a scandal. We have around 4,000 households in temporary accommodation, and that doesn't include sofa-surfers, people living with their parents because they have no choice, whole families living in spare bedrooms and so on. We know what needs to be done, we do not have the means to do it. Our grant funding was £300m. What we need in Edinburgh to meet the demand is £712m."

Mr Cole-Hamilton said those attending Wednesday’s summit had agreed to meet for a longer session in the summer to start to map possible solutions to some of the issues.