With the cost of living crisis growing, debate around the need for affordable and social housing has been intensifying, with a recent survey finding it is one of the top priorities for Scots.
The issue is of particular relevance to political parties campaigning ahead of Scottish local elections on 5 May.
Ahead of the vote, the SNP made a claim on Twitter about its housing record in government on 29 April.
Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it True.
Affordable housing is defined as housing of a reasonable quality that is affordable to people on modest incomes. It can include social and mid-market rentals, shared ownership and discounted housing. But there is no one agreed definition of affordability.
In Scotland, affordable homes are delivered by the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP). It firstly provides funding to allow housing providers to deliver homes for social rent. This is housing owned and managed by public authorities (mainly councils) and housing associations. These are often known as council houses.
Twenty-six Scottish councils provide council homes. The other six – including Glasgow City Council, the country’s largest local authority – have transferred the homes they owned to registered social landlords (RSL).
Most of the budget for the AHSP is used for new build housing, although it can also be used for the rehabilitation of existing housing and purchases of existing housing.
Also counted in the AHSP total are properties that are offered for mid-market rent. Lower than market rate but higher than social rent, this is sometimes capped at the local housing allowance, the maximum covered by benefits. These homes can be built by both housing associations and private developers.
Finally the AHSP figures include schemes for low-cost home ownership in communities across Scotland, under a variety of schemes. Affordable homes built by private developers also count towards this Scottish total.
In order for private developers to get planning permission from councils they must include “affordable housing” amounting to an agreed percentage of the total number of units proposed, usually 25 to 35 per cent.
Unlike housing associations and local authorities who do attract subsidies to deliver affordable housing, private developers are expected to provide this as part of their planning bid. But sometimes developers pay the local authority the equivalent value rather than build affordable housing. Purchase prices of these affordable homes are set lower than market value.
Since 2007, when the SNP first led a minority Scottish Government, figures show that a total of 108,106 affordable homes under these mechanisms have been made available. Just over 75,000 of these – almost 70 per cent – have been for social rent.
What are the Scottish Government’s housing targets?
A key target, often referenced by housing campaigners, is the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent, between 2016-17 and 2020-21.
A total of £3.5bn was committed in that time frame, an 84 per cent increase in spending when compared with the previous parliamentary term.
It followed a 2015 report by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland, Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) published research that concluded there was a need for at least 60,000 affordable homes across Scotland – 12,000 per annum for five years.
The following year the Right to Buy Act – introduced in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government – was scrapped by SNP ministers.
Between the years 1979-80 and 2014-15 a total of 494,580 Scottish council and housing association homes were sold under the scheme.
Is the Scottish Government meeting its targets?
According to Scottish Government figures it delivered 41,364 homes – almost 9,000 short of its 50,000 target in the last parliamentary term. Of those, 28,154 out of its 35,000 target were for social rent.
It claims the 50,000 target would have been met if the Covid-19 pandemic had not caused delays.
An Audit Scotland report published in April 2020 stated that the SNP Government had made “good progress” towards reaching the target but acknowledged “serious risks”, such as the uncertainty about post-2021 funding, which it said could slow progress.
The figures do not take account of the loss of housing stock. In its 2021 Annual Housing Review the Chartered Institute of Housing reported that once demolitions and sales are taken into account the net increase in social rented homes in Scotland is just 25,000.
The most recent target announced by the SNP-Scottish Greens government commits to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70 per cent will be for social rent and 10 per cent will be in remote, rural and island communities.
Some experts claim growing need for affordable housing, due to the pandemic and the rising costs of living, mean higher targets are needed.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: True
It is true to say that the SNP has delivered over 105,000 affordable homes across Scotland. It has produced more than 108,000 since it came into power in 2007. However it missed its target to deliver 50,000 affordable homes in the last parliamentary term by almost 18 per cent. It counts new homes, not net growth of affordable housing.
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