Alister Steele: Our housing associations can lift standards nationally

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As THE average age of first-time buyers creeps above 35, with young people struggling to find employment, manage student debt, save for deposits and secure mortgages, growing demand from the so-called Generation Rent has undoubtedly been good news for private landlords.

The private rented sector has a key role to play in meeting housing demand. Currently, just under one third of all rented property in Scotland is in the hands of private investors, and in Edinburgh there are 15,000 more private rented homes than social rent. Dominated by letting agents and buy-to-let properties, the sector has a reputation for poor quality, rising rents, insecure tenancies and variable management.

At the same time, housing associations, as housing providers for those in greatest need, have been hit by welfare reform and cuts in public funding that have made their operating environment more challenging and increased the case for diversification. Somewhere in all of this there is a win-win situation.

Housing associations have a 50-year record in providing good-quality rented housing, and can use their experience and reputation to play a crucial role in increasing supply and driving up standards in the private rented sector, and so stabilising rents.

The Scottish Government has identified this and, with the Scottish Futures Trust, has worked with housebuilders, councils and lending institutions to advance the National Housing Trust investment model to kick-start development. By 2013, Places for People Scotland will have 1,000 homes in the market rent sector.

Demand is there: more than 1,000 enquiries have been received for the 260 NHT market rent properties at Cityscape and Lighthouse Court in Edinburgh, which complete in January next year.

Any profits Places for People Scotland derives can be reinvested in creating neighbourhoods where people will want to live. Young people and families locked out of home ownership, and those who rent to retain a job, will benefit from quality homes and controlled management services. A win-win situation.

• Alister Steele is managing director of Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association