A KEY Scottish Government target to deliver 110,000 social and affordable homes within the next decade will be "extremely challenging" after the budget was cut by £177m, housing experts have warned.

Professional standards body the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has raised concerns over the cuts and warned progress on homelessness is at risk without a funding commitment over rapid rehousing in permanent homes rather than in temporary accommodation.

Worries about how the Scottish Government is tackling the housing crisis have emerged as it was revealed that the plan set out by Nicola Sturgeon in a Programme for Government in 2021 has seen its budget cut by nearly 25% in a year, dropping from £744.252m in 2022/23 to £567.471m in the next financial year.

Housing campaigners believe there is a "housing emergency", describing the cuts as "criminal" while saying it shows ministers have "deprioritised" the fight against homelessness.

CIH raised concerns through a study that local authorities are not going to meet the Scottish Government's Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP) ambitions by next year and raised concerns of a lack of a commitment to its funding after a five-year period ends in 2024 "despite progress being made in transforming homelessness services".

It also warned that Ukranian refugees were living in "unsuitable accommodation" such as cruise ships while local authorities work towards longer-term solutions.

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When launching the homes plan two years ago, the First Minister said at least 70% of the 110,000 social and affordable homes will be for social rent.

But financial papers confirming the cuts to the More Homes budget state that cuts reflect "wider budgetary pressures" across the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government met a target of building 50,000 affordable homes in March, last year - but it was a year later than expected.

That came after 9,757 affordable homes were delivered in 2021/22 – the highest figure in a single financial year since 2000/01.

The original timescale of delivery by March 2021 was affected by “significant challenges” presented by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

The total number of homes completed in the 12 months to the end of March 2022 saw an increase of 51% (3,279 homes) on the 6,478 completed in the previous year.

But according to official monitoring analysis the number of homes approved and started have dropped.

In the year to end of September 2022, 7,160 affordable homes were approved, a drop of 16% (1,414 homes) on the previous year, and 8,256 homes were started, a decrease of 19% (1,877 homes).

CIH said that the Scottish Government's commitment over affordable housing by 2032 "will be extremely challenging due to financial pressures".

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Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson, said the cuts demonstrated in "black and white that ministers have chosen to deprioritise the fight against homelessness".

“The consequences of this are inevitable; more misery for thousands of people stuck in temporary accommodation, more children trapped in poverty, and the entrenchment of the ongoing housing emergency," she said.

“People working in the sector have told the Scottish Government for years that the only way to end homelessness is to deliver more social homes so it will be impossible for ministers to plead ignorance when the inevitable comes to pass.

“Cuts on this scale can only be described as disastrous for the fight against homelessness.”

The Scottish Tenants' Organisation added: "A massive cut of nearly £200 million to building affordable homes in Scotland is nothing short of criminal which will cause a tsunami of homelessness in Scotland. The new First Minister must reverse this cut immediately as otherwise we will witness the death of social housing in Scotland."

The Herald: Stock photo of affordable housing. Picture: Ian Burt

Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTPs) were developed by each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities as part of the Scottish Government’s ambition to end homelessness in Scotland.

RRTPs set out a pathway to reduce the amount of time people spend in temporary accommodation, move away from the use of hotels and B&B as far as possible, and ensure that a Housing First approach is available for people who need additional support.

Housing First was launched to provide permanent, mainstream accommodation as the first response for people experiencing homelessness who have multiple and complex needs, for example, experiences of trauma, addictions and mental health problems.

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But an analysis by CIH produced in conjunction with the launch of Scotland's Housing Festival at the SEC in Glasgow today found that eight out of 32 local authorities were still to offer Housing First services. A further three local authorities are planning to introduce services in 2023/24.

And CIH, in an analysis produced in conjunction with the launch of Scotland's Housing Festival at the SEC in Glasgow today says its feedback suggests existing Housing First projects could be at risk, and that it will be "extremely difficult to scale up provision" without dedicated, long-term funding through RRTPs or other routes.

A survey of Scots local authorities found that only just over a quarter have said funding has been sufficient to deliver all RRTP ambitions.

None said that they will have achieved all goals set out under RRTP within the five years, with just over half saying they will have manage most of the goals.

And some 80% of local authorities taking part in the research faced difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff which has a significant impact on service delivery. Common issues included short-term funding awards, recruitment freezes within organisations, and more attractive employment options being offered in other sectors.

"There is a clear need for dedicated funding to support RRTPs going forward and for the Scottish Government to work with local authorities to review the funding distribution model," the CIH said in an analysis.

"A decision on future funding needs to be made urgently so that current projects can continue, or there is a risk of progress to date being lost entirely.

"The Scottish Government should work with COSLA [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] and local authority finance directors to ensure that funding is fully utilised to support the development of homelessness services and the intended purpose and not distributed to other areas of spend."

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Scots ministers declared themselves a ‘super sponsor’ allowing Ukrainian refugees the option to travel immediately without the need to find a private sponsor.

But the popularity of ‘super sponsor’ scheme caused the Scottish Government to pause applications in July 2022.

Official data shows that in November, the scheme had received 35,501 applications, had granted 30,629 visas and welcomed 17,463 arrivals to date, the highest rate per head of population across the UK.

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The CIH said the arrival of so many households in a short space of time inevitably created "challenges" for local authorities with already stretched services.

It said: "While accommodation has been secured in the short-term, many are living in unsuitable accommodation, including chartered cruise ships, and local authorities are working towards longer-term housing solutions."

Social landlords were invited to apply for capital grant funding to deliver longer-term accommodation through a £50m Ukraine Longer Term Resettlement Fund with a view to bringing void properties back into use or repurpose other buildings as residential accommodation to temporarily house displaced Ukrainian people for up to three years.

The fund was launched after the RRTP group, made up largely of council officials, warned housing providers were unable to accommodate refugees on top of tackling existing homelessness problems with the resources they were being given.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to making £3.5 billion available for affordable housing over the current parliamentary session as part of our ambitious plans to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032.

“We remain wholly committed to rapid rehousing and housing first. We are providing local authorities with £52.5 million for their Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans to support people into settled accommodation first before helping them with their longer-term needs. This is on top of the £30.5 million we are giving councils for their wider work to prevent and respond to homelessness."