By Kevin Stewart
As a government, we have a clear and defining reason for making housing a priority – providing good quality, warm, and affordable homes is vital to create a fairer Scotland, secure economic growth, and support and create jobs. At the heart of that sits our commitment to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over the course of this Parliament, with 35,000 of these for social rent.
While that is ambitious, it is right that we challenge ourselves to deliver the number of affordable homes that communities across Scotland need – and we have shown before that we can deliver. Nearly 71,000 affordable homes have been delivered since 2007- with 48,813 for social rent, including 8,819 council homes, as well as 4,936 for affordable rent and 17,112 for affordable home ownership.
To continue that progress requires investment – something we are delivering at record levels. As announced in our draft budget, more than £756m will be made available in 2018-19 through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme – a 28% increase. Our programme is expected to support between 12,000 and 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the construction and related sectors over the lifetime of this Parliament.
Our target will not be met through one policy or programme – a range of measures are needed. We have ended right to buy and reintroduced council house building. We are providing relief for first-time buyers and investing in shared equity. And we have introduced innovations like our Rental Income Guarantee Scheme, which will boost the build-to-rent sector, along with funding to help bring thousands of empty homes into ownership.
Our efforts are about more than simply delivering numbers. It is about delivering the right homes, in the right places, which endure for generations. From my many visits developments across the country, it is clear what is being delivered isn’t just housing but opportunities for new communities, breathing new life into areas.
Core to this is our close working relationship with the housing sector – particularly housing associations and local authorities – who I know will rise to the challenge and maximise this opportunity. Last year, we took steps to ensure details were confirmed of each local authority’s full funding allocation for affordable housing over the next three years – helping them and house-builders plan their investment and provide certainty on the amount of funding available. That means they can plan new affordable homes now – with the certainty that funding will increase year-on-year. It demonstrates the key role they have to play and ensures we work closely together, in partnership, to deliver our ambitions.
Equally, housing associations are an invaluable partner – not just in house building but also bringing a unique perspective, and offering direct service user experience. Their role isn’t just providing good quality housing and services for tenants, or building new energy efficient homes, it’s also about creating jobs, supporting vulnerable people, and acting as an anchor for some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.
Around 160 housing associations are registered in Scotland – ranging from small community based organisations to very large group structures covering a wide geographic area. Regardless of differences, housing associations are independent, non-profit distributing organisations with the overarching purpose of providing good quality housing for their tenants. I greatly value both that diversity, and the contribution to our communities and country they make.
Our mission extends beyond helping those who are close to the housing ladder to get on it – we want to transform opportunities and outcomes for those who are furthest from it, experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping. We have set out actions to renew and redouble that work, including the creation of a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, backed by £50m to drive change. In doing so, we want to ensure that we extend the opportunity to increase and improve housing for all, starting with the most vulnerable people in our society.
Taken together, it is clear to me that there is a breadth of experience, knowledge, and hard work going on across the sector – and a real commitment to ensure we meet out shared ambitions of a safe, warm, and high quality place to call home for everyone. With the hard work of all those involved, and the determination from across government and the housing sector to deliver, it is clear we have all the tools in place and I know we can do it.
Kevin Stewart is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing.