Demographic change and an ageing population are rightly cited as one of the biggest challenges our society is facing, particularly when it comes to housing.
By 2030, there will be over a million people aged 60 to 74 in Scotland and a further 600,000 aged 75 and over.
For housing, this is often framed simply as a negative, grumbling, ‘how are we going to house all these people?’
Instead of this kind of inherent bias, wouldn’t it be better to ask, ‘where do older people want to live and how can that be achieved’? Up until now, this problem has been thought of as exclusively one for the public sector, only serving to increase the negative connotations and push the problem elsewhere rather than seeking to solve it.
As private landlords, we should want to be part of the solution and see it as an opportunity, not only for our businesses but a chance to contribute meaningfully to solving a long-term societal issue. And I believe we are ideally placed to do just that by demonstrating the security, quality and flexibility we can provide and by investing to provide the kind of homes that older people might want.
First, on security, the private rented sector has gone through massive changes over the past few years to provide additional security and stability for tenants. Something I believe is critical to appealing to a group which prioritises security and has been used to it as a result of owning their own home.
The Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) introduced in 2017 gives extensive protection to tenants, whilst stricter rules and training introduced for letting agents in October 2018 have further helped professionalise and increase standards.
Our sector has also historically been subject to stricter safety standards than the social housing sector and definitely what is required in privately owned homes, including on fire and electrical safety. So not only are our tenants secure but so are our properties.
Second, on quality, we know that in many areas, private landlords are the only ones who are investing and constantly improving properties to attract reliable, long-term tenants. That is sometimes upgrading existing homes to meet the higher standards our sector requires or, in many areas, taking one of the 100,000 homes currently empty across Scotland and investing to bring it back in to use.
The opportunity for landlords is to target our investment in existing homes or empty properties to appeal to this growing demographic.
Finally, flexibility. This facet of the private rented sector is often thought of as only appealing to the young who want to move more frequently for professional or social reasons or because of a growing family.
However, people whose family have maybe left home may also want that flexibility such as to move close to children who perhaps live in the city. Later on in life they might want to move again to ensure they are nearer other social or health services or near friends. As time further progresses, they may want to move because of reduced mobility. This flexibility is surely one of the hallmarks of the private rented sector and one we should embrace.
If we can demonstrate these benefits of the private rented sector to the growing demographic of older people then everyone can benefit. For those people themselves, they get the same security and quality to which they are accustomed as a home-owner but with the added benefit of flexibility which they would not have. As landlords, we would have a growing market of the kind of long-term, reliable tenants that we are always seeking. Society and public services would also benefit as the burden on purely social housing could reduce overtime.
And for younger people, rightly complaining about the older generation blocking their ability to get on the property ladder by staying in large properties that are unsuitable for them, their own housing options would be freer and more fluid.
The kind of shift I am describing will only happen over a longer period of time but landlords must begin to consider how they can begin to appeal to this demographic in the future and what kind of properties we must provide in order to do so.
If we can begin to do that then we can contribute to solving a long-term societal problem and help create the genuinely mixed housing market that we will need to really solve the housing crisis Scotland currently faces.
John Blackwood, chief executive, Scottish Association of Landlords