Housing sector

Three key ways to help the social housing sector

Sally Thomas, Managing Director, SFHA

By Sally Thomas

SEPTEMBER will see the Scottish Government set out its plans for the coming year in its Annual Program for Government. There is no shortage of issues to be addressed and members of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) are hoping for decisive action to help their tenants through the coming months.

Housing associations and co-ops provide safe, friendly, low-cost housing to people from all walks of life. They are essential to ending homelessness, fighting poverty and addressing the climate emergency. Their tenants – a third of whom already live in fuel poverty – are on the front line of the cost of living crisis. And right now, they desperately need government support.

SFHA wants to see action in three areas on the agenda for government.

First, we need to help our tenants keep their heads above water, heat their homes, and put food on their tables. We are asking the Scottish Government for a £2.5 million cost of living fund, so that housing associations and co-operatives can get financial, food and energy support directly to their tenants.

Second, we need continued substantial investments in energy costs. Last week we launched a £2m Social Housing Fuel Support Fund, funded by the Scottish Government, to help tenants at risk of fuel poverty. This kind of funding is exactly what we need: but we will need much more to avoid catastrophe this winter.

Third, we cannot lose sight of the urgent need to build new social housing. Rents in the social housing sector are generally half of those charged by private landlords. Therefore, more social housing is essential to solve the problem of unaffordable rents. In addition, the greater energy efficiency of social housing makes it an important tool in the fight against climate change. But our members are reporting skyrocketing construction costs, as well as uncertainty about the costs of the next round of decarbonization challenges. Without support on these two issues, Scotland’s target of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 will not be met.

The next Parliament will also bring a Housing Bill, to implement aspects of the Scottish Government’s rental sector strategy. We need this to be well designed, putting tenants’ rights at the forefront while acknowledging the crucial differences between the social and rental sectors: notably the fact that housing associations and cooperatives reinvest rents in the creation and maintaining high-quality, low-cost housing.

Undoubtedly, the Scottish Government’s next steps involve a delicate tightrope walk, as it balances urgent funding for today with the capital investment in the zero-carbon homes we desperately need for tomorrow.

Our members will be there for their tenants through it all. Housing associations and cooperatives are here for the long haul: the sector has been essential in recovering from previous economic crises and is at the heart of its local communities. We need the Scottish Government to trust and invest in our members to help tenants through these latest crises: the need for social housing has rarely been greater.

Sally Thomas is the Executive Director of the SFHA