Black’s Blog: Campaigning to showcase the importance of housing

Black’s Blog: Campaigning to showcase the importance of housing

Jimmy Black wishes Scotland had Housing at its Heart, as per the SFHA’s current campaign.

Carolyn Lochhead from SFHA made an engaging guest on the current episode of the SHN podcast, with me and SHN editor Kieran Findlay. She came to talk about the SFHA’s campaign to put housing at Scotland’s heart, but we asked her about many things.

For example, buying up houses for social rent, because it’s quicker than building them. Carolyn understandably has no answer as to how many houses the Scottish Government’s recently announced £60 million will actually buy and repair. I opined that improving houses which are bought on the open market, blessed with DIY work inflicted by “handy” owners, and featuring a wide variety of non-standard heating systems, would be a serious challenge. Nonetheless, Carolyn was positive about the scheme, although she expressed regret that the £60m was sliced off the Affordable Housing Supply budget.

We talked about mid-market rent, and Carolyn put up a stout defence against my suggestions that this tenure, arguably, allows people to avoid strict allocation rules and lets the government produce more “affordable” housing for less money. She says it helps people who have very little chance of ever getting a socially rented home. Unfortunately, mid market rent homes provided by social landlords are classified as “private” and subject to the rent cap, and that in turn discourages landlords from building them. Carolyn believes that needs to change.

Interestingly, private Build to Rent landlord, Get Living, has paused its plan to build 1,500 homes on an old goods station in Glasgow’s High Street. They cite being unable to control their rental income (because of the Scottish rent cap) as the factor which makes other cities like Manchester more attractive to their pension fund shareholders.

One of the things SFHA want the government to do is extend the funding which allows social landlords to help tenants who are struggling with fuel bills and the cost of living generally. SFHA previously secured £7.5m through the Social Housing Fuel Insecurity Fund and £1m from the Winter Hardship Fund for their members to distribute. That may not tackle the root causes of the current crisis, but at least it helps.

Long ago, working for Shelter in the 1980s, I co-wrote a booklet featuring the stories of people who had been rehoused out of slum conditions into social rented housing (mostly council housing at that time). The difference this had made to their lives was immense. The idea was to present a positive image of council housing, which was under threat from Conservative privatisation initiatives.

The SFHA’s campaign is attempting something similar, showing how a well-adapted socially rented home can transform the life of people with disabilities; or how a social landlord’s investment in energy efficiency can drastically cut fuel bills for tenants. I asked Carolyn about that too; if tenants’ bills are cut, maybe it would be fair to increase their rents?

She wasn’t having that. SFHA believes the government should lead on finding the finance for the shift to net zero. Tenants are already struggling; even if their fuel bills fall, it’s unfair to expect them to pay for the shift to net zero.

I applaud the SFHA’s efforts, but is housing really at Scotland’s heart? Until we have a coherent approach to land value, land ownership, planning, tenure, capital investment, the private rental market, homelessness and housing benefit, then no. The answer is no.

This was a wide-ranging discussion and you can find it below…

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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