Solving the housing crisis must acknowledge broader changing demands and demographics

 

John - Headshot - October 2015
John Blackwood, Chief Executive, Scottish Association of Landlords @scotlandlord

A recently published report found that home ownership has dropped from 69% in Scotland at its 2004 peak to 63% now.

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) would like to see a long-term strategic plan that allows people to choose the right housing solution for their circumstances, recognising those requirements are likely to change over time.

For example, although more people now rent than buy in city centres, often this is through choice.  Homes in the centres of cities are often large, multi-bedroom properties, which would always have required a large deposit and are out of the reach of most young people.  However, small groups of young professionals may seek to rent this kind of property as they prioritise a desire to live in fashionable city-centre areas and the supply should exist to allow them to do this if they choose.

However, an even larger number of people, recognising the growing flux in the job market choose to prioritise saving money for a time when they might be out of work, rather than focussing on a deposit to buy a house.  This would seem like a very sensible long-term plan and considerably more responsible than the situation we saw a decade ago with people over-stretching themselves simply to “get on the property ladder”.  These people were the ones hit hardest by the credit crunch and property crash of 2008 which is still affecting supply in city centres.

None of this is to say that there are not challenges which landlords must address.  We must work with the third sector and government to educate landlords about the law and encourage stronger enforcement of regulations to drive criminal players out of the market.  Equally, we must work with tenants to ensure they are aware of their own responsibilities under their lease.  Achieving this balance will help defuse tensions which can often arise through misunderstanding between tenants and landlords.

By working together and acknowledging the changing nature of the demand in the housing market it is possible to achieve the right balance that will end the housing crisis in Scotland in the future.

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The importance of good design

Jim Tough high res
Jim Tough Executive Director, Saltire Society @Saltire_Society

Housing policy, like education, is a universal aspect of civic life in Scotland; the vast majority of us (notwithstanding the issue of homelessness that still blights society) have a house that we live in and a place where we live.

My own experience has been one of good luck and privilege. For my first 8 years, a single end with a shared toilet in Bridgeton. The next 10 years in a brand new house in the new town of East Kilbride. Then, student life in a series of Edinburgh flats in various degrees of unhygienic communal living , early married life in a rented flat, then a first bought house – and now in a self-built home in the Scottish Borders. I have been lucky. And I have had direct experience of what I believe is at the heart of the Saltire Society’s Housing Design Awards, where that new family home in East Kilbride, front and back garden, inside toilet and bathroom, a safe place to play and a school within walking distance arguably typifies the standards that the awards seek to encourage.

In the Year of Architecture, Design and Innovation, which coincides with the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary, we have been paying particular attention to the impact and influence of those awards and how they, and the projects themselves, have stood the test of time. This was the topic for a panel discussion at this year’s awards ceremony where broadcaster Kirsty Wark, artist Toby Paterson, and architects Malcom Fraser and Jude Barber reflected on the state of building design and related issues from their collective experiences as judging panel chairs past and present. New pamphlets from Malcolm Fraser (‘Shoddy Buildings and Fancy Finance’) and another from a fellow distinguished Scottish architect Neil Gillespie (‘Rebuilding Scotland’) have added to the debate. Some key issues emerged that the panel felt merit serious consideration in a national policy context.

Finance for public buildings and social housing should be driven by public interest – the recent high profile issue with PFI and Edinburgh school buildings is not only a matter of money. Good design takes account of light, space and place and this has a direct effect on the health and well- being of those using and living in those buildings. Meanwhile, at a time when recycling is part of the zeitgeist, it seems contradictory to charge VAT on rebuilding and refurbishing older buildings while new builds are zero rated.

The importance of design and the role of the architect should be part of the curriculum – the idea of the ‘starchitect’ and celebrity buildings can create an unhelpful impression of the architect as somehow removed from our daily experiences. Good design and good designers are not simply ‘nice to have’ but are an essential part of any ambition we have to improve health and quality of life. Encouraging children to be confident in their understanding of design is part of this aspiration. In the words of the introduction to the influential Saltire Society publication ‘Building  Scotland’, written by founder members Robert Hurd and Allan Reiach in 1944:

“The point of this book is to introduce you to the pleasures and pains of ancient and modern forms of Scottish architecture: and in doing so indicate that, to be a good citizen in the age of reconstruction, every man, woman and child, should learn to use their eyes and be competent to know a good (or bad) building when they see it.”

The discussion also found general support for a simpler regulatory environment governing architecture and place making. By all accounts, the understanding architects must have of complex and accruing regulation adds cost, complexity and inhibits a holistic approach to design. A simpler more coherent regulatory framework would allow architects and clients to use their time more effectively.

It’s exciting to be part of the Year of Architecture, Innovation and Design and it is important to celebrate excellence and achievement in what is such an integral part of our society. It is also equally important to be ambitious for the future. To quote from Neil Gillespie’s Saltire pamphlet, which refers back to Hurd and Reiach’s original 1944 publication:

“At one point in Building Scotland the authors say ‘If the ability of the 20th century architect to tackle modern problems is still in doubt turn over and take… courage!’. Some seventy years later the call remains the same, take… courage!”

To find out more about this year’s Housing Design Awards or to get copies of any of the related publications mentioned, please visit our website: www.saltiresociety.org.uk