Councillor Susan Rae and the Evening News should be congratulated for raising the plight of homeless people who have been placed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation by the City of Edinburgh Council (report, 06/03/18). The report was concerning given that in February it was reported to Full Council that 1,609 households were in temporary accommodation and that 605 of these were using B&Bs.
The report makes clear that the quality of this accommodation too often is not good enough. The Council, however, needs to go beyond simply getting families out of B&Bs. Firstly, if we are paying £5.7m per year for temporary accommodation, we need to make sure it is fit for human habitation. In the longer term, we need to aspire to end the use of B&B accommodation completely rather than just lift families out of them. Indeed, the number of families in B&Bs is so small that it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s the snow on the tip of the iceberg!
There will be those that argue that the solution to the problem is the Council’s plan to build 20,000 affordable houses over 10 years. We need to be honest about this, however, as only around a quarter of the “affordable” housing built last year in Edinburgh was for social rent. With over 20,000 people on the council house waiting list in Edinburgh, we know that social housing is what’s needed. Indeed, over five thousand people recently applied for just 32 council houses built as part of the Leith Fort development.
The other types of “affordable” housing are simply not affordable to many people living in Edinburgh – it’s time we were honest about that. Building more social housing costs money, however, and the SNP Government is cutting Edinburgh’s budget. Indeed, the recent “City Deal” came with not one penny for social housing. That’s why we need to use the £2m allocated in Edinburgh’s budget for homelessness wisely.
To start to tackle the housing crisis we need to act fast, but building homes takes time. That’s why we need to stop paying private landlords to offer temporary accommodation. Instead, we need to “borrow to buy-back”. We should use the £2m to borrow around £16m to pump-prime the systematic buy-back of the council houses Margaret Thatcher sold. We can use the money that would have went to private landlords to pay back this loan.
This proposal may look radical, but a timid approach won’t solve Edinburgh’s housing crisis.