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Never forget the value of social housing

By Darron Brown, Chair of Wellhouse Housing Association.

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Orginally published in The Herald. 

The value of a stable, affordable home cannot be underestimated and for many of us, that truth has never been clearer than it is now, after months of being told to stay at home.

Independent research shows that to reduce housing need, Scotland needs a minimum of 53,000 new affordable homes in the next five years. At least 37,100 of these should be for social rent.

Social housing has never been more important and what we need now is a big push on house building. It can’t be left to the private sector and be driven by profit or it just won’t happen. If we want stable, affordable homes for people, it needs to be led by central and local government.

There are currently 167,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Scotland. Many of these people are either struggling to afford expensive private let accommodation or living in completely unsuitable accommodation.

With private rented accommodation, a family can move in somewhere, settle their kids into school, then in a year’s time they have to leave because the landlord wants the property back to sell it.

Families often spend 40-50 per cent of their income on rent and that can make it difficult to keep food on the table. Affordability is a huge issue, and a lack of social housing means people are forced into that situation.

Social housing provides people with quality, affordable, secure housing. So long as tenants pay their rent and there’s no antisocial behaviour, they have a home for life and that security is hugely important.

There was stigma around social housing for a while, but I think that’s changing now, especially as new estates are often a mix of housing, some of it owner occupied and some of it social housing.

Our ethos at Wellhouse Housing Association is to make Wellhouse a place you want to be, and we prioritise the community, bringing people together. Our income is the rent our tenants pay, and it is all invested back into the community.

I am shocked at the level of homelessness we have in Scotland. There’s the people you see on the street but a family in unsuitable accommodation can also be homeless or a woman living with an abusive partner.

Last year, we made additional properties available as temporary accommodation for homeless people and we also consider whether those placements could become longer term. Everyone deserves a permanent home.

We haven’t seen the true impact of this pandemic yet, but the signs are already there. People are going to need a lot of help and housing associations like ours are an important part of the solution.

The time to build is now. Social housing will be more important in the next five to 10 years than it has ever been. Profit drives most things but where we are now, and where we are heading, it’s about people’s lives and making sure people can put food on the table.

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