Demand for social housing in West Lothian now outstrips supply by more than 300%.
The cost of living crisis has impacted on already bloated waiting and homeless lists with more people leaving the private rented sector and more abandoning spiralling mortgages.
It is just one of the challenges facing the housing department which has also been hit by legislation changes and an apparent population drift eastwards, according to one councillor.
The council’s Governance and Risk Committee heard that a predicted overspend on the housing needs budget remained one of the highest risks the council faces.
Councillor Danny Logue asked: “ I’ve noted the very very low turnover of housing stock and the change where people can present as homeless [without family connections] and the drift from the west coast to the east. How is that affecting housing and budget?”
Sarah Kelly, Interim Housing Needs Manager said: “We do have very high [tenancy] sustainment in West Lothian. We are in the top five percent. Once we get tenants into properties they stay there. They are happy there. They maintain the tenancy. That does affect throughput as less people leave their tenancies than in other council areas.”
The council also faces construction industry wide problems in terms of shortages of trades and this affects the repairs to void properties. And raising costs of goods and services which again slows the throughput of void properties.
Ms Kelly added: “The demand in West Lothian outstrips supply by some 312%. That demand is a continued pressure.
“There’s always a long queue for every house that becomes available. There is an increasing migration from people in the private sector so in terms of the rising costs around mortgages and borrowing we are seeing many people leaving the private sector landlords or customers losing confidence in private landlords so we have seen people approaching the council for social housing.
“There are additional drivers this year. That gap grows year on year.”
Councillor Logue asked what effect landlords selling up had on the council to temporarily house people. Ms Kelly said: “We have lost over 100 landlords and 170 properties in the last year.”
The council has a range of measures in place including private sector leasing, an active buyback scheme for former council properties and recent expansion of the shared spaces programme which provides 60 temporary tenancies, mainly for young people.
West Lothian is also one of the few local authorities in Scotland which is funding new social housing.
The report to the committee also detailed a move to a policy of prevention approach to homelessness.
In practice this means the housing department will work more closely with other council departments including health and social care and the Advice shop as well as charities in a holistic approach to solving issues which can hamper sustained tenancies especially for young people.