Sally Thomas: Long-term investment is vital for delivering the housing Scotland needs
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) chief executive Sally Thomas speaks ahead of today’s Scotland Excel ‘Accelerating the delivery of affordable new homes’ conference.
In the current political climate, where breaking news comes by the hour, it can be difficult not to focus on the right now and not even the medium-term future. However, as we enter the next Scottish parliamentary cycle, a focus on this future is exactly what the housing sector needs from the Scottish Government.
We are currently in the middle of the Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP), through which the Scottish Government set a target of 50,000 new affordable homes to be delivered during a five-year period. This has been an extremely welcome investment for both the sector and the country as a whole; these new homes are desperately needed. The delivery of new affordable homes is crucial to meeting other targets around poverty and inclusion, homelessness, child poverty, and energy efficiency.
The money invested in the AHSP has also meant that the private sector has had the confidence to provide additional investment into the social housing sector. Without private investment, RSLs would be unable to deliver as much new housing as they currently are.
The most recent quarterly housing statistics show that total new housing supply in Scotland increased by 15% in 2018–19. Under the AHSP, there was an increase in supply of 12% year-on-year. This is fantastic news – however, we are only at the beginning of the story in terms of increasing supply.
It’s important to note that RSL stock is up just 1% overall, and council stock is static: we are only now just breaking even in replacing affordable homes lost to Right to Buy. We have 160,000 people still on waiting lists for social housing; the demand is still there and, rightfully, likely to increase, as social housing continues to play a key role in supporting people out of unsuitable – or no –accommodation.
Given this then, the urgency for a long-term strategy from the Scottish Government is greater than ever. The vision contained in its Housing to 2040 paper is certainly to be lauded, and we welcome that it is thinking that far ahead. As things currently stand, however, we need more information on plans for the upcoming parliamentary cycle.
Taking Brexit out of the equation, we are on course to meet the 50,000 affordable homes target. However, it’s not just the most recent statistics that tell us this is still not enough new homes. This target was informed by research commissioned by SFHA, CIH and Shelter in 2015, which recommended that 60,000 new affordable homes were needed.
We recognise that attention also has to turn to upgrading existing housing. However, given the persistent deficit, we remain convinced that another target needs to be set – this time more nuanced. Figures on new completions show that not enough new homes are being delivered that cater to people’s varying needs, e.g. in terms of accessibility or for older people. Therefore, the next programme must align with both these demographic trends and the wider social policy agenda.
Sally Thomas is part of a line-up of speakers at Scotland Excel’s ‘Accelerating the delivery of affordable new homes’ conference today. The event is designed to bring local authorities and housing associations together with suppliers on Scotland Excel’s new £1.5bn New Build framework to explore key topics relating to the construction of social housing.
For more information on the framework, visit Scotland Excel’s website.