Craig Sanderson: Terminological inexactitude - careless or deliberate?

Edinburgh Poverty Commission member and former Link Group chief executive Craig Sanderson makes the case for a clear definition of the term ‘affordable’ housing.

Craig Sanderson: Terminological inexactitude - careless or deliberate?

Craig Sanderson

As usual, David Bookbinder gets to the heart of an issue in his piece on 13th April - ‘Talk of a unified rental sector is pie in the sky’.

In his final paragraph, he suggests that ‘talk about unifying things is careless’. This is not the only use of terminology which is careless.

Consider the word ‘affordable’ when used as an adjective to describe ‘housing’. There is increasing evidence that the users of this term do not have a common definition of what it means. And if they don’t, what hope is there for us readers/interpreters?

The NPF4 draft document includes social housing for rent in its list of types of provision which are (allegedly) ‘affordable’.

Scottish Housing News must think otherwise, given that it says that its excellent daily e-news is for the ‘social AND affordable housing sector’.

Two recent articles illustrate the problem.

In one, a private sector developer stated that it had received planning approval because it complied with the relevant local authority’s condition that 25% of its proposed provision of new homes will be ‘affordable’. Further enquiry, however, reveals that all of these dwellings will be let at mid-market rents.

So, NONE for social rent!

In another, a registered social landlord announced its development of 94 new ‘affordable’ homes.

Good news - but even better news when it is eventually revealed (halfway through a long narrative) that ALL will be for social rent.

Even the Scottish Government failed to recognise this in its response - especially disappointing, given its expectation that 70% of new ’affordable’ supply should be for social rent.

This isn’t simply a question of pedantry or semantics.

As a member of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, I have heard those in dire straits (and that was before the dramatic rises in the cost of living) saying that even social rents are becoming UNaffordable.

So mid-market rents won’t be ‘affordable’…

And don’t forget another fundamental characteristic that differentiates ‘social’ from most other ‘affordables’ - security of tenure.

So this is a plea for writers and communicators of media statements to be crystal clear about what exactly is being provided so that the rest of us can reliably monitor, assess and hold the Scottish and Westminster governments to account for their (lack of?) investment in the people who need it most.

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