Continuing our series of briefing sheets on housing in the run-up to the Scottish elections, researcher Rona MacNicol looks at the position of social housing in Scotland post right-to-buy, and what role it could play in Scotland’s housing mix in the future
IT is virtually undisputed that the Right-To-Buy scheme cost Scotland (and the UK) a huge volume of its social housing stock. It is estimated that 455,000 tenants bought their homes in Scotland during the 30 year period of Right-To-Buy policy. Furthermore, most of the homes purchased were better homes in more “desirable” areas. This depletion of social housing stock has lead to the expansion of the Private Rented Sector. Thus, as demand for housing increased, social housing has been stretched to its absolute limit and a largely deregulated private rental market has enabled rent prices to soar at unprecedented levels.
In 2011, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the proportion of households in the Private Rented Sector doubled between 2001 and 2011 from 137,000 (7%) to 325,000 (14%) whilst the number of those in poverty in social housing halved. The decreasing poverty levels within social housing is no cause for celebration. Those most in need have been forced into a cruel, profit-driven sector which neglects its most basic aim: to put a roof over people’s heads.
Whilst in Scotland, social housing rents are almost 25% lower than in England and house prices are 20% lower, the expansion of the private rented sector means this statistic is in danger of being reversed as low income families have no choice but to succumb to the high prices of the Private Rented Sector in the absence of sufficient social housing.
In this term of parliament, the Scottish Government aims to invest PS463 million in 2015-16 building 30,000 “affordable” homes, of which at least 2/3 will be for social rent including 5000 council houses.
However, with more than 180,000 households on waiting lists across Scotland and just 54,600 social housing properties becoming available to let last year, it is apparent that the current Scottish Government targets will fall short in providing sufficient levels of social housing stock.
Aside from stock concerns, there is a general consensus that social housing is stigmatised to some extent and this must also be addressed. The most deprived 15% of Scottish neighbourhoods have very high concentrations of social housing. The correlation between deprivation and number of social rents emphasizes the unfortunate stratification that often accompanies social housing tenancies.
In a study into the peculiar stigmatisation of housing estates in the UK, many housing experts have concluded that merely improving the quality of social housing has not been enough to shake the stigma and proposes greater mixing of communities as a solution. This highlights the need not just for physical improvement in social housing stock but improving attitudes towards the concept of social housing as a whole. Future housing policy should seek to widen the appeal of social housing and also improve the conditions for current tenants, in order to lessen the correlation between social housing tenure and deprivation.
Since 2006, one-quarter of Glasgow’s high rise (mostly council) stock has been demolished. Whilst in some cases -such as the Bluevale and Whitevale towers in Dennistoun- these have been replaced with modern spacious new builds, this mass demolition symbolises failed regeneration. Similarly, the Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal (GEAR) saw the building of new, mostly social housing, communities outside of the city. Lacking in local amenities and transport links, they became increasingly cut off from society. Moving forward then, it is important to consider what social housing aims to do: Is it built to last? Does it provide an effective safety net? Does it provide a high quality of life for all residents?
With 180,000 people still on the council house waiting list in Scotland, the need for social housebuilding – whether via housing associations or directly by the Scottish Government and local councils – is pressing. With interest rates close to zero, the cost of government borrowing to build social housing directly and pay for it on future rents could be an attractive proposition for politicians. Private-sector borrowing is significantly more expensive, making it likely that rent prices will be higher and build quality lower.
-Creation of a National Housing Company which would build public rental housing. An NHC would increase public rental housing both through newbuilds and improving current stock. With an increase in public rental housing, the housing market could subsequently stabilise.
-Reduce stigma through effective placemaking, improving quality and creating social housing which appeals to a wide range of people. This is a necessary step towards creating mixed communities.
-Change the meaning of “affordability” to extend beyond price: just because something is cheaper/subsidised does not mean it should be of lower quality. We should aspire to build healthy-sized council homes which are designed to last, with an abundance of green space and local amenities.
Questions for candidates
Do candidates have intentions to improve the current social housing supply?
How do candidates intend to tackle and substantially reduce stigma?
How do candidates intend to create quality living spaces and communities which people can be proud to live in?
How do candidates aim to make social housing an effective safety net?