The number of new affordable homes to rent being started for the nation's most vulnerable in Scotland has slumped to the lowest annual level since records began, amidst desperate calls for action to deal with the homelessness crisis and a housing emergency.

There were just under 3300 new home build starts in the social sector led by both housing associations and local authorities in the year to the end of September 2023 - a 40% slump on the previous year when there were 5535 and the lowest return in over 25 years.

It is believed to have fuelled the drop in the overall number of affordable homes to the lowest annual level for eight years.

It comes as three local authorities have declared a housing emergency - Glasgow, Edinburgh and Argyll and Bute - all citing shortages of affordable housing.

Glasgow cited "unprecedented pressures" after the Home Office planned to make around 2,500 batched asylum decisions in Glasgow by the end of this year, which the council would cost them more than £53m.

The SNP-led council is expecting around 2500 decisions on refugee status to be made by the end of this year, with some 1,800 expected to have leave to remain, which they say will place the "already stretched Homelessness Service under unprecedented pressure".

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The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and other groups have called on the First Minister to ensure more public money is ploughed into social housing to meet his "defining mission" to tackle child poverty.

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In its programme for government in September 2021 the Scottish Government set a target to deliver over 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70% of these being for social rent. Ministers said this would be supported with a total taxpayer investment of £18bn and that it would support up to 15,000 jobs.

But the Herald can reveal Scotland has been averaging 633 affordable housing starts a month since setting that target. To meet a 110,000 homes target they have to deliver at an average of 894 homes a month.

But the affordable home starts in the past six months is at its lowest since the start of quarterly records in 2019 with 2477 starting in the six months to September 30 - a 35% drop on the previous six month period and a 21% slump on the same period last year.

The rate of home completions since the Scottish Government announced its affordable homes target is currently at 845 a month - but the drop in starts is leading to concerns that those numbers will in time fall away.

This is set against the number of open homelessness applications in Scotland soaring by 30% since the pandemic began - from 22,754 in March, 2020, to 29,652 in 2022/23. The homeless household numbers being forced into temporary accommodation - like hotels and bed and breakfasts - rather than settled homes has shot up from 11,807 to 15,039.

The Scottish Tenants Organisation said that the Scottish Government's failure to declare a housing and homelessness emergency after shutting a motion down at the Scottish Parliament at the end of last month "is put to shame" by the record on building homes to rent.

"The Scottish Government has got to recognise reality and declare a housing and homelessness emergency now for Scotland so that an emergency action plan can be developed and implemented immediately with a recalibration of the £3.5 billion already allocated to build 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 being brought forward," the STO said.

They said the money should be "front loaded" to build thousands of new social rented homes.

Social housing in Scotland is housing owned and managed by public authorities, mainly councils and housing associations.

The Herald:

Between 1998 and 2007 some 115,000 council homes were transferred to housing associations leaving local authorities with 314,199 as of March 2021.

Official data has revealed the number of new builds started for rent in the social sector in the past year - a key part of delivering for those most in need in Scotland - was at 3292 for the year to September 31 - the lowest since records began in 1996.

Some 2,135 of the social rented sector new build annual starts were led by housing associations.

In 2009 housing associations were delivering 6270 homes a year - nearly three times as many as now.

There were 1531 social rented sector housebuilding starts in the six months to the end of September - the lowest for six years. 

The Herald revealed that ministers were warned in September that a homelessness crisis would become deeper after it emerged that social landlords in Scotland were expected to build 4,500 fewer affordable homes for some of the nation's most vulnerable than planned over the next five years.

The housing regulator has warned registered social landlords are projecting a 15% reduction in their plans to build new homes over the next five years as they seek to make spending cuts.

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, in a July analysis, said that the supply of affordable homes has fallen 20% in three years and "shows no sign of recovering".

They say at least 125,000 homes for social rent were needed simply to satisfy existing demand.

Its July analysis revealed that 243,603 people are currently on the waiting list for social housing, but only 26,102 allocations were made across the entire country.

The new Scottish Government data shows the overall number of affordable homes being started for build including for rent in the social sector has dropped to the lowest annual level for eight years. Some 6,302 affordable homes were begun in the year to the end of September as part of an official programme - but that is a 24% drop (1,996 homes) on the 7,159 started in the last annual analysis.

Government information shows that that is the lowest annual figure to the end of September since 2015.

And the number of homes being approved for build remains at its lowest level for ten years.

Some 6,178 homes were given the nod for grant funding in the year to the end of September as part of the Affordable Housing Supply Programme - down by 14% (981 homes) on the 7159 approved in the previous year and the lowest equivalent annual figure since 2013.

Glasgow City Council said that its data shows that 74% of households within the Asylum and Refugee Support Team are currently occupying temporary accommodation. Assuming this remains constant, the additional positive decisions will mean that 1,026 of the 1,386 households are likely to require temporary accommodation pending an offer of settled accommodation being made.

A council analysis says it is not clear where additional lets could be found. They say if accommodation cannot be sourced, this "could lead to an increase in rough sleeping".

Meanwhile campaigners yesterday called for more money to be ploughed into social housing to meet the First Minister’s ‘defining mission’ to tackle child poverty.

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An open letter to the First Minister from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the Poverty Alliance, alongside major social justice organisations, outline evidence that building social homes is a key part of lowering child poverty rates.

They call on the Scottish Government to address the £700 million that they say "has been eroded" from the Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP) due to inflation, as part of the Scottish budget. They are concerned that approvals for new-build affordable homes continued to decline from the previous year despite almost quarter-of-a-million people being on a waiting list for social housing.

STO campaign co-ordinator Sean Clerkin added: "There should also be a mass programme to acquire thousands of private empty homes to have them renovated in to permanent homes for the homeless. In addition Local Authority buildings and empty office spaces can also be repurposed into homes for homeless people.

"The Scottish Government has to take action now or we will end up with a housing and homeless catastrophe returning to a Dickensian Britain very badly divided as in Victorian times.

Sally Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said: “Delivering the social homes we need is central to the Scottish Government’s guiding mission of ending the injustice of poverty.

“We know that up to 20,000 children across Scotland are kept out of poverty because of social housing, but with a further 10,000 children stuck in the insecurity of temporary accommodation and the devastating effects that has on their wellbeing and life chances, it is more than urgent that the Scottish Government begins to address the £700 million funding gap in the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.

“The Scottish Government’s current target of delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 is not just stalling, but is in reverse. Failing to increase the Affordable Housing Supply Programme will not only see this target become an impossible dream, but it will plunge households across the country further into poverty.”

The Scottish Government accentuated the positives, saying that the number of affordable home completions in the past year is at its highest annual figure since 2010 with just over 10,500 affordable homes delivered in the year to end September 2023.

That is an increase of 9% on the previous year.

The Scottish Government say the completions "ensure further progress towards achieving the Scottish Government’s target of delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 70% of these for social rent and 10% in rural and island communities".

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: “The combined challenges caused by a hard Brexit and economic mismanagement by the UK government have triggered various issues including the rising cost of construction supplies and workforce challenges. This has undoubtedly impacted on the number of new build homes started over the last year. Despite these challenges, the housing sector has done incredible work to deliver homes and we will continue working with partners to mitigate these impacts. We are also making £3.5 billion available in this parliamentary term, towards the delivery of more affordable and social homes."