There’s a lot to do to make the Scottish housing market meet the needs and expectations of people in Scotland. There’s the challenge of an ageing population and making sure the homes we have are right for older citizens. There’s the need to protect fragile rural communities by ensuring there’s a mix of housing provision. Making our homes more energy efficient; improving private renting; supporting better neighbourhoods – all important priorities.
But underlying that inventory of priorities is a stark fact: we simply need more affordable homes. Homes in which people can have the security of knowing they have somewhere to call home, which is within their means.
A new report, published this week by Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, shows just how much current policy is lagging behind that need. The independent research team which produced the report shows that Scotland needs at least 12,000 affordable homes a year for the next five years. Current programmes, at best, provide only half of that.
The failure of public policy and programmes to bridge the need gap is longstanding and spans governments of different hue.
Scotland needs 12,000 affordable homes because the market alone cannot do the job. Those homes can vary as to whose needs they meet. While there is a compelling case for the bedrock of that programme to be socially rented homes – council or housing association homes with below-market rents and with secure tenancies – the research highlights that there is also room for a range of solutions, including low cost home ownership or newer products like mid-market rented homes.
So in delivering 12,000 affordable homes, there is plenty of scope for continuing innovation, especially as different areas match the specific needs of their localities to the range of options available. However, that must be in the context of a concerted effort to increase affordable housing supply through to 2020. 12,000 affordable homes a year should be the litmus test of housing policy in Scotland for the next 5 years.
A programme of this scale is a challenge to national government, to councils, to housing associations, to builders. But there’s a prize too. There’s a jobs and skills boost from upping our game on housing supply; the health gains from better homes; the critical role of secure and affordable housing in reducing inequality child poverty and in improving a range of wellbeing outcomes.
All of these gains are widely-recognised and accepted, not least by government ministers. But it has been a long time since the rhetoric on the importance of housing has been matched by programmes of sufficient scale.
Scotland is at that point now. The evidence is clear. The benefits are clear. The need is clear.
Let’s get on with it!