The support being provided to people facing homelessness in Edinburgh has been commended but we'll need to work together to bring about long-term change, says Adam McVey, Council Leader.
Back in late March, when it was announced that the country would be entering lockdown measures, we set about creating a dedicated team to co-ordinate our support to some of our most vulnerable people - our residents experiencing homelessness.
As part of urgent measures to protect those most at risk, we stepped up an Additional Accommodation Needs Team to co-ordinate the crucial task of increasing the amount of emergency temporary bed spaces we can access as a Council, so that no one need be left without a safe place to stay.
Within weeks, empty hotels were secured. Holiday lets were turned into homes for those who might otherwise end up rough sleeping. And importantly, all families who had been living in B&B style accommodation were safely moved into self-contained homes. We now have over 200 extra bed spaces and counting as a result of this work and we're continuing to meet the need for our services.
This rapid response is testament to our City's dedicated volunteers, workers from across the third sector and the Council's team of homeless support officers. It has highlighted the incredible work this service and those of our partners provides day-in and day-out, working hard to help anyone in need.
Yet, this pandemic has also highlighted the very real challenge we’ve been working towards in Edinburgh when it comes to providing much-needed homes. We're a compact City but our population is still growing. The property market is still one of the most expensive in the UK and losing properties which could be safe and warm homes to those without a place to stay to the short-term lets market is simply not sustainable.
A quarter of all homelessness cases in Edinburgh are linked to the private rented sector and our housing teams support people whose tenancies may be at risk to stay in their homes. Part of their work to prevent people from becoming homeless has involved bringing forward a rent deposit guarantee scheme, to support people with the often expensive upfront costs of renting. It will be vitally important that we continue to encourage landlords to help people whose finances aren’t secure to keep their tenancies, as and when lockdown measures are eased.
We’re ready to work with the private rented sector in partnership though and to understand the very real financial challenges many tenants will face because of the outbreak in the months which lie ahead. We’re asking landlords of residential properties previously run as short term lets in particular to lets us use their properties to give a home to our citizens who need them in exchange for a guaranteed rent.
When we're able to, returning to construction to build new, high quality homes will remain a key priority for us too. We're building 20,000 affordable homes as well as investing £2bn in new Council homes over the next decade, but this takes time to deliver. In the meantime, we can help landlords to rent their properties to us through our Private Sector Leasing Scheme with Link Housing, which not only offers a solution for private landlords who are unable to receive rental income during the pandemic, but increases the number of homes available to people experiencing homelessness.
We’ve already increased the number of properties we let from the private sector, bringing in 100 extra homes, and I want this number to rise. We’re serious about tackling homelessness for good. We look forward to industry working with us to achieve that aim. Let’s work together on this unique opportunity to rebalance the market for the long-term by returning short-term lets to the purpose they were intended for - as homes.