Refugees highlight Scotland’s housing shortage - David Alexander

Who cannot be moved by the images – burning homes, long lines of refugees and worst of all, pictures of civilian dead - coming out of Ukraine?

To add to our sorrow and anger is a feeling of absolute helplessness. Instinctively, we want “our boys” to be sent in to help the Ukrainians in their plight but at the same time know this risks war between NATO and Russia, the very real prospect of a nuclear conflagration and the possible end of civilisation as we know it.

So, apart from sending weapons, money, medical supplies, clothing and children’s toys, Great Britain has offered sanctity to refugees fleeing Ukraine. However, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has been criticised as being too slow in facilitating this, not least by Nicola Sturgeon, who is in danger of becoming tainted with using the tragedy of Ukraine for political point-scoring.

According to Sturgeon there should be no limit to the number of Ukrainian refugees admitted to the UK, which may sound laudable but is wholly impractical as it belies the practical difficulties of admitting thousands of people without any means of housing them all.

With over 130,000 families on the waiting list for a council house in Scotland, where is our First Minister going to put all these refugees, if they are not to be housed for an indefinite period in army-type barracks?


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The latest figures for new housebuilding in the social sector (in the quarter to end March 2021) show 1,513 completions. While this was an increase of 19 per cent (246 homes) on the previous quarter (October to December 2020), it was a decrease of 22pc (415 homes) on 1,928 completions in the previous January to March. This brings the total number of social sector completions for the 12 months to end March 2021 to 3,785, a decrease of 33pc (1,887 homes) on the 5,672 made available in the previous year. While activity levels were undoubtedly affected by COVID-19 lockdown measures the fact remains that pre-pandemic annual building figures were under 6,000, a figure that in no way relates to underlying demand.

The problem is that Scotland is woefully short of available accommodation. It is all very well to say we don’t want to place any limits on how many refugees the country will accept but how is this to be achieved when there is very little spare capacity in any sector?

The latest Scottish Government data – which is from 2019 so is not fully up to date – shows that there are 132,029 on a waiting list for social housing. Meanwhile, the private rented sector is currently facing an unprecedented shortage of housing stock which nobody has ever experienced before.

As I write, my own firm, for example, has just 64 properties available at a time of the year when we would normally have hundreds of homes to let. In addition, we are expecting an enormous influx of EU citizens returning to work in Scotland this summer and we will struggle to house them if there is not a substantial upturn in properties available.


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If refugees cannot all be accommodated in social housing – for the reasons stated above – and the Scottish Government feels it has no alternative but to take leases on rental property to sub-let to Ukrainians then the demand coupled with the lack of supply will inevitably push up the cost of rentals for everyone.

The problem, as it has been for some time, is too few properties available to rent and insufficient numbers being built to meet the growing needs of the Scottish population. Only by having a frank and open discussion among all interested parties will we resolve this issue long term. Consequently, the Scottish Government needs to ensure it engages fully with housebuilders and property developers, the private rented sector, and social housing in developing an appropriate strategy to ensure we have sufficient homes for our people in the future – which is the way we will create a property market which benefits everyone.

In the short term I hope as many Ukrainian refugees are found homes in Scotland as quickly as possible but it is incumbent among politicians – especially those at the most senior level – to be honest about the limits on the scale that Scotland can manage in practice.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander


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