FORMER Airbnb flats put up for sale because of the coronavirus crisis could be snapped up by the city council to help ease the Capital’s homelessness problem.
Deputy council leader Cammy Day said the opportunity presented by the slump in demand for short-term lets was already under discussion.
And he hinted that hotels which decided not to reopen because of the pandemic could also be considered for accommodating homeless people.
His comments came as the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, of which he is vice-chair, presented an interim report on poverty and coronavirus in the city and called for progress which had been made in tackling some key issues to be “locked in” to future plans.
The report said huge numbers of people in the city had lost or were at risk of losing their livelihood due to the coronavirus crisis, with many not knowing where to get help.
It said the pandemic had exacerbated many of the injustices which already existed in a city where an estimated 80,000 people live in poverty.
It criticised some employers for not taking up the UK Government’s furlough scheme.
It also highlighted the upsurge in community support for people who were struggling but said better co-ordination was needed.
And it called for the city’s economy and services to be redesigned to treat people with dignity, respect and compassion.
Commission chair Jim McCormick said: “Edinburgh is the most unequal part of Scotland and this crisis has magnified a lot of that.”
But he said there opportunities to “build something better for the city than we had before” - if governments, council and employers and housing providers all worked together.
The report said in response to the coronavirus lockdown, the council had acted quickly to provide security for those in temporary accommodation and to house rough sleepers by securing over 200 bed spaces in hotels and private flats.
“But the fundamental pressures of Edinburgh’s housing system have not changed and without commitment of new resources it cannot be assumed that these gains can be sustained once this phase of the outbreak is over.”
Mr McCormick said: “Before this crisis what was so distinctive about Edinburgh was the extent to which poverty was driven by the lack of affordable housing.”
He said incomes which in other parts of the country were enough to allow people to keep their head above water, in Edinburgh would see them pulled below the waterline because of housing costs, mainly rent.
“The only way out of this problem is to be able to boost genuinely affordable housing.”
Cllr Day said the SNP/Labour administration was already committed to building 20,000 homes by 2027.
“We need realistically to look at increasing that substantially - but that’s not going to happen overnight.
“We’ve already started the discussion internally in the council that there will likely be properties come available through short-term lets, Airbnb-type businesses, which we don’t see as being so successful in the coming year or two - is this a chance for us to buy up properties to add to the council’s stock immediately, to get people who will at some point have to come out of these hotels into some permanent accommodation?
“And I’m sure some of these big hotel chains might not go back as hotels in future, so we’re keeping an eye on that - is there a chance to transform them into some form of supported living arrangement as well?”
He likened it to tackling delayed discharges from hospital, but hinted government funding would be needed to make it happen.
“We’ve seen delayed discharges reduced hugely because we purchase private care home beds.
“So where there’s money and a will to do things we will do absolutely everything we can - but that needs to come along with the support of our city and our governments.”
The report said too many employers were not taking up the job retention scheme, some because their finances were not strong enough to survive the cash flow problem, but others because they thought it easier to lay people off and recruit again when business picked up.
But Mr McCormick said: “The message should go out to take a fresh look at furlough, even if it is for the short term – you’re giving yourself and your people a fighting chance of making it through the next two or three months.”
The report said in rebuilding after the crisis, “we must ensure we create a fairer economy where people providing vital services are valued appropriately and enabled to live a life free of poverty”.
And it talked of the need for a decent income for all “whether that is building on changes to Universal Credit or considering more radical changes such as a Citizen’s Basic Income”.
Cllr Day said: “Can we have a new approach which says Edinburgh should become the first capital city to have its own living wage for everybody whether that’s a cleaner in a private company or a worker for the government or the council?”
Zoe Ferguson, another commission member, said attitudes had changed before and after lockdown. “Too often we heard from people that Edinburgh didn’t feel like a city that belonged to them. They felt people didn’t understand living in poverty and just didn’t care.
“In the last few weeks we’re seeing something different - we’re witnessing compassion every day, an understanding from shared hardship, people experiencing poverty more widely than before, the respect for low-paid key workers who are keeping the city moving, and the instinct to reach out and help each other.
“In the next phase, that emotional response and humanity has to be at the heart of how we think about our economy, our community and our services.”
Figures show extent of coronavirus poverty crisis
OVER the past 15 months the Edinburgh Poverty Commission has heard from over 70 local organisations and more than 1,000 individuals, as well as commissioning new research.
It records disturbing statistics on the effects of coronavirus:
• Scottish unemployment is expected to more than double, which could mean an additional 13,000 people unemployed in Edinburgh during 20207
• 23 per cent of UK businesses have paused or ceased trading, while 29 per cent are “not sure” their business has the financial resources to survive this crisis
• 1,200 Scottish Welfare Fund applications per week have been made in Edinburgh since lockdownbegan – three times the usual average
• Universal Credit claims at peak were up by eight to nine times the volume immediately pre-crisis, while the number of advance payments peaked at five to six times the pre-crisis number
• More than half of all households believe they will struggle to meet their financial commitments during this crisis
• 64 per cent of those in serious financial difficulty are renters, 31 per cent are homeowners
• one in five have already used credit to pay for food and other expenses
• People on low incomes are 2.4 times more likely to work in shutdown sectors, than higher earners
• 23 per cent of women work in shutdown sectors, compared to 16 per cent of men
• 16-24-year-olds workers are twice as likely to be working in shutdown sectors as the rest of the workforce
• Two-thirds of working single parents are in jobs bearing the greatest economic and health risks in this crisis