Taking the sting out of the housing crisis

By providing mid-market rental homes, social landlords within the Wheatley Group are able to address housing needs of low-income households. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
By providing mid-market rental homes, social landlords within the Wheatley Group are able to address housing needs of low-income households. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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With families struggling to get on the property ladder, there is a real demand for affordable rented accommodation, writes Gillian Lavety

THE words “UK housing crisis” can mean different things to different people. For some, it means being one of the estimated 150,000 on the waiting list for social housing in Scotland today, according to a recent report.

For others, the housing crisis means the prospect of never being able to get a foot on the property ladder, with many lenders looking for five-figure deposits to approve mortgage applications.

And for some people, it is having no choice other than to turn to landlords who rent properties in unacceptable conditions or, at the other end of the scale, paying high-end private rents to live in their chosen area.

But there is another group often overlooked which needs help – those working households on modest incomes who want access to high-quality, affordable rented accommodation.

At Wheatley Group, we are tackling this gap in the market and providing a range of solutions and options to meet the needs of these customers.

One option which is proving popular is Mid-Market Rent (MMR), aimed at customers who cannot otherwise access owner occupation, social housing or full market private renting.

Back in 2011, Wheatley Group – Scotland’s leading housing, care and property-management organisation – set up its own wholly-owned subsidiary, Lowther Homes, to manage its growing portfolio of mid and full market rental homes.

The audience for mid-market was originally defined as key workers – those employees who provide a vital service, in particular in the police, health or education sectors.

But this picture is changing. MMR is now a realistic option for more people than ever before. For example, families where both parents are on modest incomes with jobs in supermarkets and offices and with a combined income of between £15,000 and £40,000 a year can access MMR homes.

Across our five social landlords within Wheatley Group there are more than 25,000 people on the social housing waiting list – of which around 8,000 meet the MMR criteria. In a wider perspective, around 22 per cent of Scotland’s working population also falls within that salary banding.

Lowther currently manages 478 homes, of which 186 are for mid-market rent. Over the next few years, we are looking to provide a further 1,800 mid-market homes across our communities as part of a major programme of house-building made possible by our issue of a £300 million public bond on the capital markets late last year.

There is no doubt there is a real demand for mid-market homes. Our last three mid-market developments have seen all homes snapped up by house-hunters in record time – with many more people showing interest than there were properties available.

Our 32 new affordable homes at Castlemilk, built by GHA with the help of almost £1 million from the Scottish Government’s Greener Homes Innovation Scheme and managed by Lowther, is a case in point. On the day the homes were released, around 60 people queued from 6am to register their interest.

From £500 per calendar month, tenants can enjoy the benefits of a new-build home with sun spaces, solar panels and high levels of air tightness to minimise heat loss and reduce heating bills. Of the new tenants at the development in Croftfoot Road, 59 per cent were on a waiting list for social housing.

Emma and Peter McLuckie and their baby, who had been on a waiting list for a home for social rent for four years, were among them. The young family have told us how lucky they feel to have finally got such a fantastic home.

One of our earlier developments at Ibroxholm Oval in Govan saw a GHA tower block, which had been earmarked for demolition, fully refurbished and transformed into 98 mid-market flats. Again these flats proved extremely popular and were snapped up way ahead of schedule.

The £7m scheme, part-funded by £1.1m of Scottish Government grant and £1.1m from ScottishPower, included a combined heat and power system to keep energy bills affordable.

The block, which has a concierge service, is again managed by Lowther Homes. And because Lowther is part of Wheatley, it is able to provide customers with a host of unrivalled letting and property-management services under one roof, including a 24/7 repairs service and round-the-clock customer care.

While MMR provides a new way of renting for working households and reduces the number of people on the waiting list for social homes, it also helps Wheatley as a business diversify its income stream, supporting our ambition to keep rents affordable and do more for our communities.

The housing crisis won’t be solved overnight, but providing high-quality, energy-efficient and affordable housing for a full range of customers is surely a good place to start.

Gillian Lavety is director of business development with the Wheatley Group, www.wheatley-group.com