Duncan Thorp: Poor housing and homelessness are still stark realities for many in Scotland

Housing is an issue that affects every one of us, regardless of circumstances. Whether you're a home owner, living in social housing or in the private rented sector, we all have a stake in quality, safe and secure homes.

Unfortunately poor housing and homelessness is still a stark reality for too many of us in Scotland. From people living on the streets, to dodgy landlords and homes in disrepair, there are significant issues to confront.

Public policy around housing is going in the right direction in many ways. However, we still have a tendency to see mortgages as the only viable model of housing.

While there are around 27-34,000 privately owned long-term empty homes in Scotland there’s a very similar number of people who are homeless.

Bizarre facts like this point to a more fundamental issue – tweaking the current system simply isn’t working.

Fortunately there are positive alternatives that are already helping solve our housing crisis. Housing associations and co-operatives have a long history in Scotland and the much-needed, quality, affordable housing they provide should be celebrated.

These social landlords have a clear and positive social purpose. They do their best to supply a good standard of housing for tenants. They don’t have shareholders, so they can put human needs first. They must be viable businesses – but aren’t driven by short-term profiteering, the very nature of, eg the traditional private rented sector. They now provide housing for people of all backgrounds and incomes, not just those in most need.

Lister Housing Co-operative Ltd is in Edinburgh and owns its properties outright. Since it was founded 40 years ago it’s been managed by the tenants who live there. Like other social enterprise housing providers all the profit goes back to benefit tenants and their properties.

Alistair Cant is the Director: “Lister Housing Co-operative is a successful social enterprise providing 185 good quality affordable flats to rent in central Edinburgh. It’s controlled by tenants, staffed by experienced staff and also cares for its Georgian tenements lovingly. Housing co-operatives and associations are a genuine Scottish success story.”

Social enterprises are also gradually moving into the territory of the private rented sector too, with organisations like Places for People providing affordable, quality, mid-market properties for long-term rent.

Susan Aktemel is Director of Homes for Good. Based in Glasgow, it’s Scotland’s first ever social enterprise letting agent, operating in a market dominated by private landlords and letting agents:

“Over the last four years Homes for Good has proven that letting agents can and do behave ethically for tenants and landlords. It also proves that you can balance the supply of quality, affordable homes for people who need them with a financial return for landlords. Alongside Homes for Good Investments, we’ve created a much needed and substantial supply of properties for people on benefits and low incomes, which offer our investors both social and financial returns.”

Social enterprise housing providers operate across every urban and rural community. Some of the biggest ones, such as Link Group Ltd, have been around for years. They innovate by also providing care and support services to tenants, as well as support to local community projects.

Craig Sanderson, Chief Executive of Link Group Ltd says: “Link is a group of housing associations, charities and social enterprises serving 15,000 customers throughout Scotland. But that is a means to an end. Everything we do is with the aim of trying to close the ever-growing inequality gap, the biggest threat to health and well-being.

“A sufficient supply of good housing helps to dampen excessive house prices and aids flexibility of labour movement. Housing Associations are a perfect example of social enterprise, where all profits are re-invested in the business itself or into the community.”

There are many Housing Associations operating within the social enterprise housing scene, including Wheatley Group, Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative and Albyn Housing. We have Glasgow Together CIC, creating jobs for ex-offenders in construction, The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust providing affordable housing and the new homeless village in Edinburgh from Social Bite, using homes from Tiny House Scotland.

It’s also worth paying recognition to those working to improve housing and homelessness in Scotland, notably the private rented sector tenants’ union Living Rent, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA)and Shelter Scotland.

We must go beyond our obsession with mortgages as the only option. We need to learn to let go of outdated beliefs about the meaning of ‘home’. Housing should be seen as a human right, not as a profit-making venture.

We do still have a long way to go to make social enterprise housing the mainstream option for most people. However, this variety of innovative and inclusive housing is the only real, long-term solution to provide good housing for everyone.

Duncan Thorp, policy and communications manager, Social Enterprise Scotland