THE chief executive of Highland Housing Alliance, an Inverness-based property firm which specialises in remote areas often overlooked by major developers, has offered its suggestions for tackling the shortage of homes across the region.

HHA chief executive Gail Matheson declared that there is a “significant gap” between the supply and demand of affordable homes in the area, which she said has “worsened” in recent years because of an “under-delivery” of homes, rising land prices, and constraints on the amount of land available for development.

Ms Matheson said: “The Highland Housing Register currently has approximately 9,000 applicants recorded and whilst The Highland Council has ambitious plans to reduce this through the creation of 3,300 new affordable homes by 2028, we must also look at how we re-purpose existing stock to become fit-for-purpose.

“Additionally, better funding availability to organisations like HHA who provide mid-market rent and streamlining the planning process needs to be considered. If we could also make more land available for affordable housing units, we would stand better stead of addressing the housing shortage.

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“It is paramount that we address the shortage of affordable housing if we want the Highland economy to flourish, accelerate its desirability to investors and retain a resilient workforce, who need high-quality homes.”

Ms Matheson’s comments came shortly after an interview in The Herald, in which she underlined the importance of providing “well-priced” and “high-quality” homes to retain people in the Highlands and attract others to the area. Most of the homes it provides are pitched at “mid-market rents” and while many are built from the “ground up”, the firm is increasingly regenerating older properties.

Ms Matheson addressed recent changes to legislation in the private rental market, which she said has led some landlords to exit the market and either sell properties or change their use.

She agrees with those who say the current, 3% cap on rent increases is impeding the development of homes for rental.

Ms Matheson said: “We have seen an increase in people applying for our homes because their current landlord is selling the property. This has increased significantly since the introduction of the rental controls.

"It has also caused a lack of investment and makes it harder to secure funding. Our rents are at MMR levels, which are less than private, and have less room to absorb this, but yet we are still included within the 3% rent cap.”

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Ms Matherson added: “The word I’d best use to describe the current situation is pressured. I meet people every day in challenging situations, with many people desperate for a new home. The demand continues to grow and some of our properties have over 80 applications.

“At HHA, the majority of our homes are available at mid-market rent. We have tried to reduce rent increases as much as possible, with the only spike being a 3% rise earlier this year in line with Scottish Government legislation. We have tried to alleviate financial impact on our residents, as much as possible, and subsequently have had to assume costs, such as maintenance and repairs, ourselves.”