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by Sally Thomas, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
20 June 2024
Associate Feature: Holyrood must keep housing at Scotland’s heart

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Associate Feature: Holyrood must keep housing at Scotland’s heart

Scotland’s 136 housing associations and co-operatives have been a core part of our society for nearly 50 years. As not-for-profit organisations set up to tackle the poverty and homelessness of the 1960s, they continue to exist for precisely that purpose. Over the 25 years of the Parliament, they’ve proved to be a life-line for people across Scotland.

Whether it’s because of housing need in their constituency, a determination to tackle poverty, or a belief in social justice (usually all three), MSPs have always recognised that local housing associations are vital for their communities to flourish. 

As we celebrate 25 years of the Scottish Parliament, our housing associations are at a turning point. The devolution of housing has seen many positives, perhaps none more so than the bold decision to end the right-to-buy - which helped protect our social housing stock. By the time it was revoked, we’d already lost half a million social homes and the impact of that is still being felt today. And policy decisions since then continue to impact on the supply of social homes. Policy decisions being made now.

That’s important because housing associations don’t just provide a great home at an affordable rent. They tackle inequality every day, with 20,000 children a year in Scotland kept out of poverty because they live in social housing and being supported by their local housing association to stay there with a range of help. When we have 10,000 children growing up in temporary accommodation it’s not hard to see why providing the homes they need in a community that’s their own has never been more important.

Yet last year our housing associations started building the lowest number of homes at any time since 1988 – a continuation of a longer term slowing down due to many factors, not least costs. And we have no doubt it’s set to get worse. While we’ve always appreciated the support across the political spectrum for building social homes and tackling homelessness, there is an urgent need to see action to reverse the decline.
Parliament recognises this, which is why there was cross-party agreement that we are facing a housing emergency, with record homelessness, and almost quarter-of-a-million people stuck on waiting lists for a home. While there are many factors at play, the most urgent, and the one completely within government’s control, is housing policy. Reversing cuts amounting to almost 40% of the budget for our affordable homes over the past two years is the place to start.  This is a decision sanctioned by this current Parliament and is one that only it can undo. 

And there is hope. The new First Minister has said increasing housing supply will be one of his top priorities.  However, we are concerned that the only policy option being explored is an increased reliance on private investment rather than public funding. In recent weeks, the First Minister has described PFI as leaving a ‘crippling burden’ for government and local authorities – but shifting the ratio of public to private funding for social homes risks repeating these mistakes, putting the burden of repaying debt squarely on the shoulders of social home providers and ultimately social tenants. 

There are few areas of public life which can simultaneously lift thousands of children out of poverty, grow the economy, lead the transition to net-zero, improve education, health, and wellbeing; delivering affordable rented housing is one of them. If the role of government is to provide for the most basic and essential needs of its people, now more than ever we need to see the political support, and the right decisions, to deliver the homes that are desperately needed.

As we look to the next 25 years, this must be the point at which Parliament re-sets its commitment to providing everyone with the safe, warm, affordable home they deserve. The need for our housing associations and co-operatives has never been greater – now, and for the next 50 years.

This article is sponsored by Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA)

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