Black’s Blog: ‘Affordable’

Scottish Housing News Podcast co-host Jimmy Black rounds up a lively debate on the topic of housing affordability from the latest episode.

Being a bit of a pedant, I appreciate The Correct Use of Words. I think I’ve found an ally in Michael Carberry of Blochairn Housing Association who really hates the word “affordable” as applied to housing.

He hates it so much that he’s been relentlessly emailing Kieran Findlay, the editor of Scottish Housing News. So we decided to make him a guest on our podcast.

The Scottish Government uses “affordable” to describe their housing programmes such as mid-market rent, loans for private rent and grants for social rented housing. But does that make any sense?

We also asked Living Rent* onto the podcast and recorded interviews with three tenants and one of their policy workers. It was clear they didn’t see any of these house types as generally affordable.

Even the social housing tenant we spoke to said paying £300-odd a month left people in her community struggling to buy food, clothes and fuel.

So the question is… affordable to whom? We also invited John Blackwood from the Scottish Association of Landlords to take part and he was firm in his view that many of the people renting in the private sector should really be in social housing. Apart from issues of poverty, the private sector was ill-equipped to proved the support they require.

That took us on to Michael’s view that the obligation to house those in greatest need means the residualisation of the social rented sector. It’s no longer a tenure of choice, in other words.

Gordon Maloney from Living Rent described the huge subsidies to landlords provided by Government through housing benefit/Universal Credit and other means, and said imposing rent controls would be an effective way of cutting public expenditure and helping tenants find truly affordable housing. He and his Living Rent colleagues explained that they want rents linked to quality and to income levels locally.

John Blackwood accepted rent controls are coming and supported the idea of linking rents to quality, if backed by incentives. But he also said landlords are already leaving the scene, as they see current rental income failing to keep pace with costs. Rent controls will mean more will pack up and go, in his view.

The debate was lively and the language colourful at times, but one thing we all agreed is that a house is only affordable if you have enough money to pay for it. Maybe the Scottish Government should find a better word.

All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here.

*Jimmy’s introduction refers to Living Rent as a private tenants union. In fact, tenants of all tenures are members of Living Rent.

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