We often hear that Edinburgh is facing a housing crisis, but it is worth thinking about what that means. In the past year alone 3,103 people were assessed as homeless in our Capital and we typically have 3,500 people in temporary accommodation on any one night. Over 600 of these people are in what is euphemistically called “B&B Accommodation” – too much of which is not fit for human habitation.
With 19,750 council houses on its books, the Council is Scotland’s sixth largest landlord. The problem is, however, that around 21,000 people are on the waiting list for these houses and 70% of all social housing lets in Edinburgh go to homeless households. Funding cuts make it harder for the Council to build more homes. Indeed, we spend more on homelessness than we do on building council houses. Worse than that, much of the “affordable” housing we build is simply unaffordable to those that need it.
This level of demand means the cost of privately rented accommodation in Edinburgh has rocketed by 40% in seven years – there would be riots if mortgages increased at that rate. The sector is booming, with some landlords canvasing to buy properties that were formerly council houses. Indeed, 7 Edinburgh Councillors are private landlords – including the current and immediate past convener of the Housing and Economy Committee.
Making matters worse, an estimated 5,000 homes are empty in Edinburgh. Whilst there are often good reasons for this, others are simply a wasted resource. A minority are abandoned and are accruing massive Council Tax debts which the Council could work harder to collect.
In parallel to this, the city has witnessed rapid expansion in Airbnb type lets, with 9,638 homes used in this way. This sector of the economy is largely unregulated due to the Scottish Government’s unwillingness to bring forward legislation to ensure owners act responsibly and provide safe accommodation.
Whilst Edinburgh is facing a crisis, those caught up in it are facing a catastrophe. Recently the rented home of one of my constituents was rendered uninhabitable by a fire. She had no insurance and lost all her belongings. The private landlord terminated her lease and told her she’d have to wait until the end of the month to have her deposit returned. Despite the same landlord having an almost identical home one street away, my constituent was made homeless and was facing the prospect of moving into “B&B Accommodation” with her toddler.
My school dictionary tells me a crisis is “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made”. It’s time Edinburgh had the funding and the powers it needs to make and implement decisions on housing and the courage to see them through. Real change is needed.