Scotland is facing an emergency in affordable homes, a national report has found – with West Lothian a victim of its own success in social housing, a senior housing officer told councillors.
Demand for affordable homes is surging across Scotland and these demands are more acutely felt in Livingston and neighbouring towns because of the area’s economic draw.
Recognised as a good landlord, the council has a high sustainability of tenancies and a shortage of affordable homes to let.
Speaking to councillors Sarah Kelly, the housing need manager said: “We are almost a victim of our own success.
“I think on our side is that we have been open and honest about this for some time now. These are becoming national issues.”
And while there’s no shortage of executive homes being built in West Lothian, the real need is for affordable housing.
Ms Kelly told a meeting of the council’s Housing Services PDSP that the report, compiled by the council umbrella organisation COSLA, the association of chief housing officers (SOLACE) and the association of council chief executives (ALACHO): “provides a clear message.”
She added: “Scotland is in a housing emergency. The report echoes the position set out consistently for some time by officers within West Lothian council, that the current unprecedented challenges being faced here are considerably worse than most areas in Scotland.”
Ms Kelly said: “It does make clear that there are simply not enough social and affordable homes available and local authorities have inadequate means to reverse the position themselves.
“The housing system is failing those in need.”
Councillor Robert de Bold, the SNP depute group leader challenged assertions in the report which suggested that support organisations such as Shelter should be prevented from challenging councils with judicial review over housing decisions.
He also suggested that elements of the report suggested that councils should redefine homelessness and added: “Are we trying to dissuade or prevent people from seeking legal redress?”
Ms Kelly said the report outlined the need to update guidelines to reflect the changing demands which councils are facing. A review would allow councils to make more definite decisions on homelessness. The judicial review process is sapping already stretched housing budgets.
The report called on the government to increase funding for affordable homes and to change burdensome legislation such the removal of family ties to the council areas to qualify for a council home.
Councillor Pauline Stafford, for the SNP said: “I think the Scottish Government are taking it seriously and their ambitions are good, but are there any issues that are specific to West Lothian?”
Ms Kelly acknowledged that the housing minister and other Scottish Government officials were aware of the local problems.
“It has been recognised by the minister and by the regulator that West Lothian does have a very specific problem and should be seen as a priority area.
“We are right in the middle of the M8 corridor. We have good transport links to Edinburgh and Glasgow. We are almost a victim of our own success.
“West Lothian is a place people want to work and live. We see a bit of a charge to West Lothian. We have good schools and we have good facilities.”
Labour’s councillor Andrew McGuire said: “I think SOLACE and ALACHO should be commended for taking such a bold view. Every councillor knows from their own mailbox that this is the single biggest issue we are facing.
“The problem is we are very successful. People want to live in council houses because when they live in them they live for the rest of their life. The pressures in homelessness have been a generation or more in the making. They are political choices and I hope that this report is the first step in a long road to address the issue of homelessness.”