Increasing the supply of affordable housing is a key policy aim of the Scottish Government. The term “affordable housing” is not well defined but in the context of the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme it includes:
- housing for social rent provided by Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and councils
- housing for affordable home ownership
- mid-market rented housing (i.e. housing above social rent levels but below market rent levels).
50,000 affordable homes target
The Scottish Government’s target is to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes (of which 30,000 will be for social rent) over the five-year period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2021. This is a substantial, 67%, increase from the previous five-year target of 30,000 affordable homes (of which 20,000 were for social rent).
The Scottish Government’s commitments have been welcomed by those working in social housing. However, it is acknowledged that it might be difficult to determine exactly how many new affordable homes Scotland actually needs.
The budget is increasing
The increased target is being supported by an increasing budget. In 2018/19, the Affordable Housing Supply Programme budget will be £756m, a rise of 28% from 2017/18.
Further substantial increases for the local programmes over the remainder of the five-year programme have also been announced by the Scottish Government. The local programmes are devised by local authorities and account for the majority of the total Affordable Housing Supply Programme budget.
The challenges of delivery
So, this all seems like good news. But one of the main challenges will be to actually deliver the houses.
Over the last five years, there have been, on average, around 6,800 affordable homes completed each year. For the target to be met, this will need to rise to around 10,000 a year, although in practice a larger proportion of units will be completed towards of the end of the five-year period.
Planning for, and building houses, can take a relatively long time. Groups representing housing providers such as the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO) and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) have highlighted some challenges.
- Infrastructure blockages, such as lack of adequate drainage on sites or access roads.
- The capacity of staff working in local authorities and RSLs to plan and deliver the housing.
- The capacity of the construction sector with potential skills shortages, which may be exacerbated by Brexit.
- Delays in the planning system and limited access to land in certain areas.
More Homes Scotland
The Scottish Government, through its More Homes Scotland approach, has instigated some measures to help housing providers to address such challenges. These measures include:
- A Housing Infrastructure Fund: announced in February 2016, the five year fund offers grants to RSLs and local authorities, and infrastructure loans to non-public sector organisations to help improve infrastructure for key strategic priority sites.
- Reform of the planning system through the Planning (Scotland) Bill. The Bill is currently at Stage 1 so it will obviously take some time until the practical impact of the reforms takes effect.
Can the target be met?
Recent research, commissioned by Shelter (Scotland), SFHA and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, analysed local authority Strategic Housing Investment Plans (SHIPs).SHIPs are prepared by each local authority and set out five-year plans for affordable housing development in their areas. Based on their analysis, the authors of the research suggest that the 50,000 target is, “capable of being reached, albeit there may be some optimism built into estimates.
Right houses, right locations?
Having a target in place will obviously place a focus on the number of houses being built. Perhaps more important though is making sure that housing need is addressed by providing the right type of housing in the right locations. However, the 50,000 target is not broken down in this way at all.
This is where the local strategic planning processes come into play. Local authority SHIPs are based on their local housing strategies which use information contained in their housing needs and demands analysis.
But whether the planning processes actually meets identified housing needs has been questioned. For example, the Local Government and Communities Committee heard, during their 2018-19 pre-budget scrutiny, that it could be more difficult to develop particular types of homes. These include specialist homes to meet the needs of wheelchair users, or homes in rural areas.
The Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, gave evidence on this issue to the Local Government and Communities Committee. He emphasised that there is flexibility in the Scottish Government grant subsidy framework to allow higher cost projects to be funded.
This issue was also raised in the Shelter/SFHA/EHRC report. It argues that there is, “further work to do on understanding the distribution of those homes, the extent to which that best fits current and future needs and how best to balance the various priorities that a programme of this size seeks to address.”
Kate Berry, Senior Research Specialist, Justice and Social Affairs Research Unit