The issue of the lack of affordable housing on the islands is due to be explored in BBC Alba programme Eòrpa on Thursday amid claims local people are being outbid on properties at the last minute by cash-rich buyers, some who have not even visited the islands.
Kate Macleod, 24, a television researcher from Uig in north west Lewis said she had been looking for a house in her home area for the past six months or so after deciding she did not want to move to the mainland.
She said: “Uig is home and it doesn't seem right to look anywhere else for a house. It is such a shame that because it is a beautiful place and it happens to be popular with tourists, that I can’t buy a place here .
“I shouldn’t have to go away to work and live.
“We have so many houses that are unfortunately empty for six to eight months over the winter. Older people end up leaving because they don’t want to be the only one left, the only one with their lights on. It’s actually heart breaking.”
Pàdruig Morrison, 24, a PhD candiate in music who lives on North Uist with his parents, is part of a group who have written an open letter to ‘save the islands from an economic clearance’.
The letter, which was later debated in the Scottish Parliament, spoke of young, local professional buyers who had lost out at the last minute to cash-rich buyers who “jump in” and buy houses which often have not been viewed or, in the most extreme cases, the island not yet visited.
Mr Morrison said he wanted a local scheme put in place where houses are initially advertised locally to give local residents the opportunity for first refusal, or to purchase a property before it enters the open market.
Mr Morrison said: “I spent years at university in Edinburgh and then lived in Glasgow and I know a huge number of people who want to get back home to the islands.
“It is everyone’s interests to allow that to happen. Because of Covid, people know that they can work from home and now we have good broadband on the islands. It was always the lack of jobs, or the perceived lack of jobs that was the barrier. That has not disappeared but is is now a primary issue. It is holding people back.”
He said a sustainable plan for island housing also had to complement the Scottish Government’s £25 million Rural Housing Fund and the new £5 million Islands Housing Fund, which will now run beyond March 2021.
The funds are open to community organisations and private landowners to build new affordable housing or refurbish existing properties.
Last year, research found that 522 properties in the Western Isles had been lying empty for six months or more.
It said 8.3 per cent of island dwellings were vacant in 2017 compared to the Scottish average of 3.1 per cent.
Owners are being contacted in a bid to bring these houses back into use for those who need an affordable, long-term roof over their heads.