By Sally Thomas

WITH the public and political focus remaining firmly on the pandemic, readers could be forgiven for forgetting we are now just over seven months away from the next Scottish Parliament election.

This won’t be like any election we’ve had before, so the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) is making the case for continued investment in affordable housing as we know this will be vital in order to kick-start Scotland’s social and economic recovery. This week, we launched our manifesto, and it outlines where the social housing sector and government can work together to achieve the recovery that is going to be so desperately needed.

Our manifesto focuses on three key themes – people, homes and climate change. By committing to our asks, the next Scottish Government can address housing need, tackle poverty and homelessness and reduce our carbon footprint.

Earlier this year, in partnership with CIH Scotland and Shelter Scotland, we released research that found Scotland needs 53,000 affordable homes to be delivered between 2021 and 2026. We’re calling on all political parties to commit to that target as well as a capital investment programme of £3.4 billion, over five years, ensuring that affordable housing is at the heart of the next government’s social and economic ambitions. Agreeing to the target and funding will help to reduce existing, and newly arising, housing need; tackle poverty; and create jobs. It will help kick-start Scotland’s social and economic recovery from the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has shown just how important our homes are. Somewhere safe, warm and affordable is not only important – it’s the foundation of a good life. We also know that delivering affordable housing is vital in order to tackle inequality, poor health outcomes and educational underachievement, which are a feature of too many of our communities.

As well as building new homes, we must not forget about our existing housing. We need a new affordable housing programme and resources to improve and refurbish our existing stock to ensure it meets current, and future, standards, including government energy efficiency requirements. We are also calling on the next government to look at mainstreaming current standards of accessibility so that all new homes would be designed and built to meet people’s needs throughout their lives, allowing them to live for longer in their own homes and helping to reduce hospital and care home admissions.

With our homes increasingly becoming the places where we are living, working, studying, and trying to keep ourselves, and our families, well, consideration must also be given as to how we design our homes and outdoor spaces to meet changing needs.

SFHA is the voice of our members, Scotland’s housing associations and co-operatives, which have a presence in almost every single community in Scotland and house and support more than 600,000 tenants. No other sector has the ability to influence wide-ranging social and economic change to the same extent as the social housing sector. Before, and during, the pandemic, our members have worked closely with their tenants and communities to support people in need. It is this relationship with communities that makes housing associations such an important ally for government to help drive ambitious social change and economic recovery.

We’ll be using these next few months to continue making the case for more and continued investment in the social housing sector in the interests of Scotland’s people and its economy. They deserve no less.

Sally Thomas is SFHA chief executive