Edinburgh Council is doing all it can to tackle the capital’s acute housing shortage and lack of affordable homes, says Cammy Day
Edinburgh is a fantastic place to live, as our Edinburgh People Survey consistently shows, and this is reflected by the many thousands of people who want to stay and work here. Whilst it is an incredible place to be, the worry is if it is too expensive to stay.
The challenge of securing affordable homes in Scotland is particularly acute in the capital. The housing shortage is pushing house prices up and is creating a cost of living crisis that’s putting real pressure on people across Edinburgh, particularly those who are young or on low to moderate incomes.
Demand for home ownership has fallen as a result of more limited mortgage availability for first-time buyers, falling wages and the requirement for greater deposits. But that demand is just displaced to other tenures.
Almost 170 households bid for every council and housing association home available to let in Edinburgh and in one of our recent developments, we had nearly 4000 applicants for 80 mid-rent homes aimed at working families. With the city’s population forecast to grow by almost 30 per cent over the next 20 years, keeping up with demand will become increasingly difficult.
Those on low and middle incomes are being squeezed out of the housing market but I’m proud to say we have been leading the way in increasing the supply of affordable homes – whether through our award-winning 21st Century Homes programme or new initiatives with the Scottish Government, like the National Housing Trust.
However, we need to do more and that is why In January, as part of the budget process, the council and not for profit housing associations in the city made a commitment to build 16,000 homes over the next ten years and I’m delighted that almost 3,000 of these are already under construction. This historic joint commitment – the largest of its kind in the UK – will allow us to provide the increase in affordable homes that Edinburgh so desperately needs.
This joint commitment will also generate benefits to the local and national economy of around £4bn, create over 3,000 jobs and will bring in additional council tax revenue to help fund the delivery of essential services for the people of Edinburgh.
In addition, the council has agreed to establish a city-wide arms length housing company to provide living rent market homes. This will serve as a badly needed alternative to homeownership or social housing which, for different reasons, are out of reach for thousands of households who desperately need a home they can afford.
We know that building homes is not enough on its own – it’s about creating great places to live. Involving local communities in the planning and delivery of new developments as we’ve done recently in Pennywell, Scotland’s largest housing-led regeneration scheme, will see not only new homes but the creation of a civic square for the existing and emerging communities.
There is still a lot to do and, of course, the crisis isn’t just about houses – it’s about people. From our extensive consultations, our tenants have already told us that they are facing real difficulties meeting everyday costs.
We have also been investing in ways to save them money. We have established a partnership with a low-cost energy company to provide more stable, lower-cost energy, to tenants’ homes, made energy efficiency upgrades in over 3,000 homes, and launched a tenant’s discount scheme, all of which will help reduce everyday living costs for our tenants. Indeed, one in six tenants said they found it difficult to heat their homes and over half said they didn’t know how to make their home more energy-efficient.
Tackling the city’s housing shortage is at the heart of the council’s programme to improve the city. It is also why it forms such a significant part of our proposals for a City Region Deal between the local authorities in south-east Scotland and UK and Scottish governments. I am sure that the conversations that will take place over the next few months on the City’s Vision for 2050 will play a big part in shaping that programme as the city tries to accommodate growth while retaining the quality of life and environment for everyone.
It is a challenge faced in many cities but in Edinburgh, we are working well with our partners to deliver changes in the housing market. The extent of investment in new affordable and low-cost homes, coupled with the strategy to reduce the cost of living for tenants, provides an excellent foundation for the city to achieve better community benefits and more employment and training opportunities for communities and tenants. We are serious about tackling inequality and I hope these efforts can be replicated around the country.
Councillor Cammy Day is housing Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council