We need to see a serious response to Scotland's housing challenges in 2024 - David Alexander

4th Jan 2024
David J Alexander

In his latest column for The Scotsman, David Alexander highlights the need for serious action to combat current housing issues.

The coming year will see the Scottish housing sector face challenges. Housebuilding starts are extremely low at a time when demand remains high. The only consequence of this will be rising prices in the future. There must be greater encouragement given to housebuilders to produce homes where people want to live, and which will help to build the economy.

There must be a coordinated approach to house building from local and national government ensuring that communities are sustained and developed through proper planning and organisation to produce a growing society which meets the needs of our diverse and changing population.

The housing market last year was very buoyant, but we must be cautious about pricing so that growth is sustainable and steady rather than spectacular and uncertain. A house boom is often followed by a bust and we must avoid this by creating a market with a regular flow of new homes to meet the changing demands of society.

The social housing sector is in crisis and there must be more homes delivered, reduced waiting lists, and a policy which looks at the next ten and twenty years rather than simply the next political cycle. Short-termism is common for all governments, but it seems clear that in Scotland we have not done enough to build up the social housing sector to make it large enough and suitable for the shifting needs of the population.

With three councils having already declared a housing emergency it seems inevitable that more will follow suit in 2024. Announcing an emergency must be the start of a serious response to meet the housing needs of the population if we are not to face growing numbers of homeless, and thousands living in temporary accommodation.

The private rented sector is facing enormous challenges. While demand has never been higher, the pressures have grown. The deadline for installing greener heating has been set for 2028 which many landlords may feel is not worth the investment for the return they are getting.

Institutional investors will remain as many of them are providing purpose-built accommodation which easily meets the new heating standards whereas a long-established landlord with traditional properties may find the cost of upgrading a Victorian tenement too prohibitive and too problematic. The next year or so will see what impact the heating policy has on the number of properties in the private rented sector.

What is clear is that the private rented sector (PRS) will be an essential part of the housing mix for decades to come. The Scottish Government must recognise this and communicate and work with the sector to ensure it remains viable. If it does not, then the government needs to have a very good plan to replace almost 400,000 homes housing hundreds of thousands of people.

There is a further consultation in the New Year on transitioning from the emergency Cost of Living legislation and it is vital, if this is to be effective, fair, and workable, that the Scottish Government listens to the views of landlords, property investors, financial institutions, agents, and tenants to produce a system that continues to provide enough homes in the right areas which are affordable yet also profitable for their owners.

At the heart of everything is the need to create a housing sector which serves everyone. Homeowners, tenants, students, visitors, people working temporarily in Scotland all need a home. Having a housing sector which is diverse and flexible enough to provide this array of accommodation is essential. I think that the sector has been blown off course in recent years. The situation is not irreparable, but it does require cooperation, long term planning, and adequate funding for the social sector. We shall see if this happens in 2024.

*as seen in The Scotsman