Low rent homes – it’s right to buy

Sheila Gilmore says in many instances the homes we need to help resolve chronic housing shortages already exist, and we are already paying for them. It’s time we looked seriously at buying them. 


We have a chronic shortage of council and housing association homes in Scotland. In the last week there has been coverage of the acute problems caused by a shortage of temporary housing, and the length of time people wait in temporary housing.

One contribution to relieving the problem may be to purchase properties.

I would urge politicians of all parties to take such an idea very seriously and act upon it, as one part of an overall strategy.

Many of those who need low rent homes currently live in the private rented sector, paying high rents and never knowing how long they will be able to stay.  Quite often they will be living literally next door to a council tenant paying much less for the same type of house.

One third of Edinburgh households now live in the private rented sector.  This has shot up from around 11% at the turn of the century.  No longer is it just for students and young professionals but is increasingly the only thing available for low income families.  It has spread out well beyond the city centre and traditional tenements. Many landlords have been buying up what were once public-sector properties as they come on the market.

So to a substantial extent the properties needed are already in existence, and those seeking council or housing association homes are actually living in them.  This ‘system’ is underpinned by the availability of housing benefit for those on the lowest incomes.  This is at a high cost to public funds – being paid to private landlords not building additional homes.

So there are homes there but in the high rent private sector. If a council purchased properties coming on the market (provided they did not cost more than new build) there would be many advantages. In some parts of our towns and cities space for new build is limited and buying properties in these areas could enable people to get a low rent home in an area where they would like to live for work or family reasons.  Purchase could be faster than the time spent identifying land, getting planning permission and building.

This isn’t a panacea, or a substitute for new build, but it could play a part.  Some councils have done this on a small scale, but the scale needs increased. So I was dismayed to see both Labour and Green MSPs attacking the Scottish Government for going back on a pledge to ‘build’ 50,000 affordable homes, by suggesting that some could be secured by purchase of existing properties.  I am particularly surprised to hear the Greens (who are generally cautious about over development onto green belt and green field sites) take this line. Admittedly new build has positive impact on jobs and the economy, but there are also local economic boosts from improving existing homes. As politicians we should be wary of opposing something just because our opponents are suggesting it.

Whether building or buying there is an urgent need to increase the overall levels of investment, and to increase the proportion of low rent homes.

The Scottish Government prefers the term ‘affordable’ which covers a number of different types of home – low cost home ownership of various types, mid-market rent, as well as more traditional council and housing association low rent home.  The first two types are in reality unaffordable to many on housing waiting lists. But low rent homes are the most expensive in terms of public ‘subsidy’ to build or acquire.  In some recent regeneration projects in Edinburgh only 25% of the new homes built have been low rent.

There is definitely a need for low cost home ownership and mid market rent, but in many places the greatest need is for low rent homes.  The housing needs survey for Edinburgh calculated that 70% of the city’s total housing need was for affordable housing.  Two thirds of the affordable ‘need’ was for low rent homes. Despite this in some recent regeneration projects in Edinburgh only 25% of the new homes were low rent.

This is why in our Edinburgh Labour manifesto for the May council elections we didn’t just pledge to increase the affordable housing stock by 20,000, we committed to campaigning for increased resources to increase the proportion which would be council or housing association low rent homes. We also had a pledge to buy properties, as well as build, to help us achieve out targets.

Unless this is tackled the numbers on waiting lists will remain long. For some that means living longer with family or friends.  For others it means remaining in a private let. When crises occur (relationship breakdown, families no longer able to cope, landlords wanting to sell up) they may approach the council for temporary accommodation. Some people have been in ‘temporary’ housing leased by the council from private landlords for 6 or 7 years.

Whether homes are newly built or purchased, the government needs to increase the level of subsidy to ensure that enough of the additional homes are low rent. And total investment in affordable homes need to be increased, otherwise the increase in subsidy needed to create ‘low rent’ homes will come at the expense of overall numbers.

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8 thoughts on “Low rent homes – it’s right to buy

  1. I suppose we should get over the role Labour played in selling off public housing stock: or the very poor( dreadful, in fact) record in new builds they had last time in office.

    So……….I was born in a pre-fab in Auchinleck. My wife’s aunt lived in the last pre-fab in New Cumnock, where she lived her married life, raised a family and refused all alternative housing offered by the council, until her death.
    The point I make is that (relatively ) cheap housing can exist. Scotland is not short on unproductive land, much of which is owned by people resident elsewhere. Time to think of measures to get people into decent housing that wont bankrupt the country, stays an asset for at least five decades, and is easily constructed, employing workers in factory conditions constructing modern prefabricated housing ( think German housing, but not so expensive)that is energy efficient, ,highly insulated and spacious . We know the lessons of the vast post-war estates built round our major cities. We can plan human sized mixed communities with facilities and work near by ( I’m always impressed by French towns with their industrial and living areas properly zoned). Tenants who wont pay their way, or are prone to anti-social conduct should be rooted out quickly; its known such conduct can spread and ruin an area very fast.
    Would Labour support any SNP plan to do this? Or are they too busy kissing Davidson’s posterior?

  2. I actually agree with both of you. To a certain extent. Would the SNP support a plan on these lines . As for kissing the Colonels butt. This is Jeremy Corbyns party we are talking about
    Anyway this is the silly summer season

    1. David: where is this “plan” you want the SNP to support?
      Seems like Scottish Labour are too busy whining about— too much growth, too little unemployment, NHS targets getting met—in Scotland to allow for “plans”.
      Negativity is now the driver for Scottish Labour thing, sadly.
      As for the “Jeremy Corbyn party”, the assertion is that Scottish Labour constitute the party here. Run by Kezia Dugdale, a stated opponent of Corbyn, and only this morning Tony Blair (remember him?) stated that Brexit, followed by a Corbyn government, would be the death knell for the UK. Do you agree?
      Wonder if Tone has shipped his millions out to a tax haven: just in case!

      Keir Hardie ( remember HIM?) wanted Scotland to have Dominion Status ( same as Canada, Australia etc) but we no longer have a clue as to what “Scottish Labour” or “Corbyn Labour” want for Scotland.
      Eternal Dependency Status with zero sovereignty is as near as I can figure.

  3. This is a good article, nice to see some policy thoughts.

    It’s often forgotten that council houses weren’t just good for the people living in them but also provided a lot of revenue for the councils that owned them.

    So there’s a double benefit.

  4. The membership in Scotland are firmly behind Corbyn. . The point I was making would the SNP gov support any plan. Any way October will be good PM expected to get the sack . FM going to reset the Scottish gov again .
    A nice little SNP civil war might be about to break out between the FM and Ian Blackford .The leader in Westminster over Indy strategy.
    Wee Ruth becomes a colonel. STV news are reporting that Liam Foxes wife owns land earmarked for development. Not just any land it includes the place where Rudolph Hess landed. The DOC had nothing to say .
    So STV News chased him all round his constituency today ha ha. Thing is it was Jeremy Corbyn who was supposed to resign after the election. Nearly forgot Tony now thinks JC can be PM . You are probably right Gavin about his dosh.
    I have something to say to TB you had your time you did not tolerate criticicism so SHUT UP. Cat boyed voted for JC . Jim Sillars said SNP have abandoned the North East of Scotland. They are chasing votes in the central belt where most of us live.
    Then Alec Salmond at the festival good luck to him . like I said it is the funny season.
    There is something I am trying to find out . Last week was the 100th anniversary of HMS Vanguard blowing up in Scapa Flow with the loss of 843 men 2 survivors .The crew included 2 Austrailians and a Japaneese Naval Captain who was an observer
    The sad thing is according to the record I found on my laptop . The Vanguard crew were practiscing abandon ship drill that day
    I was shocked to find the record states the ship was salvaged after the war and not declared a war grave until 1984.
    This is a private project I have undertaken for my self . I feel the men died to protect us. The future generation.
    I feel by allowing the ship to be salvaged for non ferrous steel and not making the ship a war grave we have not protected them as they gave their lives for us .
    So can anyone tell me why the ship was not declared a war grave until 1984 . I will print the reason if I find out
    I am doing this for myself it is not political

  5. The membership may be behind Corbyn but the leadership isn’t, and Corbyn has a full list of all those who are or have voted against him. Sign petitions at your peril.

    1. Thanks for your comment Davy. I am just an ordinary member They wont bother with me and I say what I think anyway. But I love to see other peoples opinion like yours on sites like this

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