Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? After reflecting on the year that has past, many people decide to make bold changes and new commitments that they hope will bring improvements to the year ahead.
If we cast aside the divided science and evidence on the efficacy of making such resolutions for a second, and take a moment to ponder the idealism and motivation that they embody, what would be our New Years’ resolutions for the housing and property sector in Scotland?
Reflecting on 2023
2023 was a bit of a rollercoaster, wasn’t it? Rent freezes, rent caps, economic downturn, eviction moratoriums, political turmoil, and global conflict. On a macro and micro level, it was an unsettled year, and the housing and property sector did not escape this, culminating in Glasgow being the third local authority to declare a housing emergency in 2023 following Argyll and Bute in June and Edinburgh in early November, with other possibly following in early 2024.
The resolutions that are needed to bring this crisis to an end are not lofty ambitions, but manageable projects and aims that can be achieved with the correct focus, cross sector working and political will.
Starting with the blindingly obvious but possibly most aspirational of our bold new resolutions for the sector – making building new affordable homes an attractive prospect. Why so obvious? The whole crisis hinges on a lack of housing and making more affordable homes available is the key to dealing with the most congested part of the housing market, where those on lower incomes are struggling to find suitable homes. Why so aspirational? The Scottish Government’s December Budget saw a £200million cut in funding for housing, the majority of this from housebuilding, precisely at the time when investment is so desperately needed. Such drastic funding cuts make any endeavour to build more affordable homes much more difficult and high risk, when housing providers are already trying to balance other risks and challenges.
Unless politicians have discovered another way to bring extra homes into the supply chain, this must be addressed if we are to maintain the housebuilding targets set within the national housing strategy.
Support private landlords
It is easy to look at the housing crisis as something that can only be resolved by the housebuilders or the social housing sector, but this is overlooking the 15% of Scottish homes that are rented from a private landlord.
Many of these landlords would argue that 2023 was harshest on them, the introduction of the 3% rent cap, the continued moratoriums on evictions, and the continued conversation on long term rent controls had some newspapers predicting an exodus of private landlords.
Debate may swirl about ideological stand offs between private landlords and the Scottish Government’s housing strategy, but the private rented sector is an essential cog in the housing machine and must be brought into conversations on housing policy, as recent comments from those within the sector would suggest has yet to happen.
As with all housing providers, bigger enterprises may have the economy of scale to cushion the worst of the impact but if enough small one-or-two property landlords decide that it is no longer worth the hassle then we simply exacerbate the issue of available housing, sending more properties to the open market which is not a feasible or desirable option for many prospective tenants.
Tackle empty homes
Where building new houses is not feasible, we must be doing all we can to bring every home into use. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) estimates that there are currently 46,000 empty homes in this country, and they have been instrumental in bringing 7,759 homes back into use since their inception in 2010, but more progress must be made on this issue.
The Scottish Government’s own report on this issue this year indicated that some well-meaning deterrents to leaving properties vacant – such as council tax premiums – may lead to under-reporting of this issue. In a positive sign, the same report contained several recommendations which could give the SEHP more teeth and more effective tools to bring as many of these homes back into use as possible.
Build a housing coalition
Scotland has a vibrant and knowledgeable housing and property sector, with a wealth of experience and insight across all tenures, but each is faced with their own unique challenges and priorities. A co-ordinated, concerted effort across the sector that sees collaboration across tenures, drawing upon experience, academia, regulation, and support would be a powerful and effective voice when government priorities appear to be moving further and further from the aim of ending the housing crisis.
Written by Julie-Ann Cloherty, Learning and Development Officer at Share. Share provides learning and development resources to those within the housing and property sector. To find out more about Share visit www.share.org.uk