For the first time ever the SNP are leading an administration in Edinburgh. This will be a challenging term. Seven years into brutal Tory austerity from Westminster budgets are tight and services are under pressure.
But we all stood because we believe that we will do what’s best for our city and the people who live within it. There are key areas that we must prioritise if we want to improve lives. Housing is undoubtedly one.
Recently at council we had two deputations about housing and homelessness. The women representing Power to the People and All About Me spoke passionately and eloquently about their personal experiences, describing how the Benefits Cap has made it impossible for many to afford their rent.
With stagnant wages, zero hour contracts and obscene rules around Tax Credits there are increasing pressures on household budgets.
The Scottish Government has put significant funding into Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), mainly to mitigate the Bedroom Tax, but with its own budget constrained by Westminster there is a limit to how much it can offset the cuts from London. This means many people are facing homelessness across the city. And the council, quite rightly, has a duty to house them.
But currently people who have been assessed as homeless, and awarded silver priority, are waiting nine to twelve months for a permanent home. Temporary accommodation is in short supply, with much provision being B&Bs. These are far from ideal, with residents often unable to access kitchens or washing machines.
We have a policy of not housing families with children in B&Bs but this is becoming increasingly unavoidable as temporary flats are in such high demand. We could make more flats temporary, but there would then be fewer permanent flats and more people waiting longer in temporary accommodation.
The simple answer is more homes. The SNP have ended “right to buy” – the selling off of council homes in Scotland. Nationally the Scottish Government has committed to building 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years, 70 per cent of which will be for social rent.
Locally we committed in our manifesto, and it is now included in the coalition agreement with Labour, to building 20,000 of them in Edinburgh. This is the only real solution – but it takes time to build that many houses.
And while those houses are being built the need for them will continue to increase. So we must look at other ways to improve things in the short-term.
I was delighted that the motion on creating a rent pressure zone in Edinburgh was passed at council. Tenancies in the private rented sector must become more affordable as this will massively ease the pressure on the social rented sector – and a rent pressure zone is one way to make that happen.
Kate Campbell is SNP councillor for Portobello/Craigmillar. This article originally appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News.