Edinburgh's housing emergency has been a long time coming

10th Nov 2023
David J Alexander
Edinburgh's housing emergency has been a long time coming - D. J. Alexander

In his latest article for The Scotsman, David Alexander discusses the recently-announced Edinburgh 'housing emergency'.

The announcement last week by the City of Edinburgh council that it was declaring a housing emergency was both shocking and unsurprising. For this is a situation that has been building for many years, decades even, as under-investment in social housing has resulted in a chronic shortage of properties.

What was truly shocking was the scale of the problem with 5,000 people being kept in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh. With Argyll and Bute having already declared a housing emergency earlier in the year there is little doubt that this is potentially the start of similar declarations across Scotland because this is an issue which is countrywide.

In 1993, the social housing sector in Scotland made up 37.5 per cent of the total stock across Scotland. By 2020, the latest year for which there is data, this had dropped to 23.0 per cent which was a loss of 214,000 homes over the 27-year period.

Over the same period from 1993 to 2020 the private rented sector (PRS) increased from seven per cent to 14.9 per cent which is an increase of 241,000 homes to a total of 395,000. This increase was required to meet the decline in the supply in the social housing sector while also meeting the demand caused by an increase of 349,000 in the population of Scotland.

Social housing was for decades the backbone of the housing sector reliably providing homes for people from the cradle to the grave. That connection and that service long ago disappeared and it has become more of a sticking plaster to be applied to an ever-growing housing problem which requires major investment over a prolonged period if the current circumstances are not to continue indefinitely.

The problem was undoubtedly exacerbated by the loss of social housing stock lost through the right to buy scheme introduced in the 1980s but there has been little attempt to meet the demand caused by an increase in population of a third of a million and the shifting social patterns of living which have produced more single and two person households. This only increases demand on the sector at a time when growth numbers have been fairly static.

The latest data for new dwelling starts in social housing indicates that the current problems will only continue. The latest four quarters to Q2 2023 show just 3,665 new dwellings in social housing started which is 25 per cent lower than the previous four quarters and over 40 per cent lower than two years before.

What we need to do to resolve the current emergency is an industry wide approach which ensures that all aspects of the housing industry are included to produce a solution which provides sufficient homes to buy, to rent in the private and social sectors, and which is designed to maintain and grow the overall number of properties in Scotland to meet current and future demands.

 Creating a housing mix that is fit for purpose and which adequately reflects the social and geographic needs of Scotland is essential if our society and economy are to grow as they must in the next decades.

Only by using the skills and knowledge of all parts of the housing sector will we create a property market that works for everyone. Confrontation will not provide more homes for Scots to buy or rent. Only conciliation and cooperation with all aspects of the housing sector including builders and developers, agents and landlords, investors, and financiers, can ensure we produce a housing sector which works for homeowners and tenants everywhere. Housing is a long-term issue, and we need to plan now for the next two decades, beyond any electoral cycle, and look at the way in which we can all work together to produce a housing market which works for Scots in the 21st century.