The City of Edinburgh Council has formally declared a housing emergency - - after charities warned of a "chronic shortfall" in homes for social rent.

It came after councillors backed housing convener Jane Meagher's motion highlighting a "crisis" in both the public and private sectors.

It cited the city's record homelessness figures along with a severe shortage of social rented homes and spiralling private rental costs.

The council said this has had a direct impact on property prices in the area, with private rental levels rising at a substantial rate.   It said housing availability is decreasing despite the social rent build programme, and local wages were not keeping up with inflation.

The Scottish government is expected to be urged to provide extra resources to help meet the "severe challenges".

Edinburgh became the second council to declare an housing emergency backing a motion by  51 votes to nine.

Argyll and Bute Council declared one in June saying there has been a rise in homelessness post-pandemic and an increasing lack of housing choice.

READ MORE: Revealed: 100s of Scots homeless seeking official help turned away

The Edinburgh Poverty Commission in its Just Capital report in 2020 called for 2,000 new homes for social rent to be built in the city each year for the next ten years, double the build rate planned by the City of Edinburgh Council at that time.

Actual completions in the three years since have been 257, 247 and 451, described as a "chronic shortfall, exacerbated by current predictions of a fall in completions".

Housing Minister Paul McLennan has said "tackling homelessness is a key priority" for the government.

The motion cited increasing pressure within the private rental sector, with the highest annual rental inflation in the UK at 13.7%.

The motion said that the council should work with existing third sector partners, external organisations such as SHAPE, Shelter Scotland and Cyrenians, with the goal of establishing a "housing emergency action plan to build on and consolidate existing actions".

The council is now expected to write to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the housing minister, and the social justice secretary outlining the actions council is taking to address the housing emergency, and to ask for "additional resources to help meet the severe challenges".

Shelter Scotland director, Alison Watson, said: “Rents are out of control, record numbers of kids have nowhere to call home, more and more people are becoming homeless – Edinburgh is clearly in a housing emergency.

The Herald: Alison Watson, Director of Shelter Scotland

“The housing emergency is touching communities across Scotland, but a chronic lack of social homes, and the enormous number of properties used exclusively for short-term lets are just some of the factors which have made the situation especially acute in Edinburgh. “By coming together to acknowledge that reality today, councillors now have licence to deliver the emergency response we need.

“Of course, there are aspects of the housing emergency that are beyond the council's control, both the UK and Scottish governments must share responsibility, but it's clear that a business-as-usual approach isn’t going to cut it anymore.

“People in the capital are crying out for action – every level of government has a duty to respond. “Today’s declaration of a housing emergency is just the start of the journey; Shelter Scotland is ready to support the council as it prepares its action plan and we’ll be monitoring progress closely.”

The Herald: Edinburgh city skyline as viewed from Calton Hill.

Lesley Anderson, regional director at the Scottish Procurement Alliance - which was crucial to the delivery of 567 affordable homes last year, including 193 in Edinburgh said: “The announcement of Edinburgh’s housing crisis is no surprise and a clear wakeup call that we need immediate action to empower social landlords to get social homes back on track.

"It’s a Scotland-wide problem. By providing better funding and cutting the red tape, we can enable associations to deliver quality, community-driven social housing.

“With a raft of head winds facing the housing sector at the moment, Scotland’s Housing to 2040 vision will be a major challenge to achieve.

“Recent rent freezes, soaring prices, inflationary pressures, skills shortages and sustainability of contractors have all played a part in the reduction of new build development and existing unoccupied social housing “Housing providers across Scotland need more support and guidance if they are to have any chance of meeting government-led targets and manoeuvre this crisis."

Ms Meagher said: “Edinburgh is a caring, welcoming city and our council officers, charities and partners do an incredible job supporting our most vulnerable residents. Sadly, however, despite us doubling the council’s homelessness budget over the last three years, we are now at risk of failing households who need our help most.

“Edinburgh may be a wealthy city on the surface, but we are seeing demand for homes far outstrip supply.=

“This is not a new challenge, but it is at the stage of breaking point. Rents are being driven up, the cost of living continues to put pressure on household bills and homelessness is rising. We have ambitious housebuilding plans, but we face rising construction costs as a result of inflation and difficulties securing land. This is against a backdrop of Edinburgh having the lowest proportion of homes for social rent in all of Scotland.

“By declaring a housing emergency, we hope to draw widescale attention to an issue that demands urgent and united action. Every single person deserves a warm, safe, and affordable place to call home and we can address this, if we act now.

“I’m pleased this decision received such powerful support today and we will now work towards establishing a Housing Emergency Action Plan, while seeking the resources necessary to achieve its success.”
Ahead of the debate on Thursday, Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Miles Briggs – a Lothian MSP – said the declaration should be a “wake-up call” for the Scottish Government.

“Homelessness is spiralling out of control on their watch and it is shocking that a record number of children are now stuck in temporary accommodation,” he added.

“It should never have reached a point where councillors in the capital are having to declare a housing emergency. I have repeatedly urged SNP-Green ministers to do this, which speaks volumes for their total inaction.

“(Tenants’ rights minister) Patrick Harvie’s big idea to solve this crisis – supported by SNP and Labour MSPs – was to impose a rent cap on the market.

“As I and others warned, this has made matters worse in the housing market, at a time when we are facing a homelessness crisis and many people cannot even get on the property ladder.”

The Herald: Humza Yousaf

Questioned on the declaration at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday and if there would be any further funding, Humza Yousaf said he and his Government will continue to work with the council to see “what assistance we can provide in order to ensure we deal with the real significant challenges they are facing in regards to housing”.

Mr McLennan said the Scottish government was making available £3.5bn over this parliamentary term to support delivery of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 70% of those for social rent.

He added: "This includes investing at least £60m to help local authorities and registered social landlords acquire properties for use as high quality, affordable, permanent homes.

"Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans play an important role in Scotland's homelessness strategy and aim to reduce the need for temporary accommodation.

"We have provided local authorities with £52.5m between 2018-24 for their plans to support people into settled accommodation."