Sunday, 26 October 2014

Affordable rent could be introduced in Scotland

The Scottish Government could introduce its own version of the affordable homes programme to fund homes post-2015.

Housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess told the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland’s annual conference today that the option is one that will be considered by a new commission looking at future funding options for house building in the country.

In England the affordable homes programme funds developers – which are mainly housing associations – to build homes that can be let at up to 80 per cent of market rate. Grant rates are lower than on previous affordable housing schemes, due to the higher rents.

Ms Burgess said Scotland is on track to build more than 8,000 affordable homes by March 2015, of which 70 per cent will be for social rent. In the longer term, however, she said new models of funding must be identified as a priority.

‘The Scottish Government is investing in housing,’ she said. ‘We know we need a strong building programme and we are looking ahead to 2018 and actively looking for new sources of funding. We are listening to housing associations and we will be setting up a forum to explore future funding options.’

The new working group, which will include the CIH, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, will consider how best to achieve a supply of affordable housing in Scotland.

David Bookbinder, head of policy and public affairs at CIH Scotland, said: ‘This forward planning is very important and we welcome it, but we have anxieties that councils and their [housing association] partners will be at full stretch completing 8,000 homes in the next two years.

‘There are less developing organisations than there used to be, so capacity to start a further round of homes before March 2015 may be limited. And that’s before you factor in the challenges thrown up by reduced grant rates, borrowing difficulties and the income threat from welfare reform.’

Ms Burgess also addressed the Westminster government’s welfare reforms, calling its ‘bedroom tax’ under-occupation penalty ‘absolute nonsense’ and ‘ridiculous and unreasonable’.

‘In Scotland we believe in tenancies for life,’ she said. ‘We believe that two-bedroomed houses should be standard and that families should be allowed to grow into larger properties. Children should not be denied a bedroom each. We have it right in Scotland and I will continue to lobby [welfare minister] Lord [David] Freud to recognise this.’

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