The Edinburgh Poverty Commission today joins Shelter, the Poverty Alliance, and other partners in calling on the City of Edinburgh Council to declare a housing emergency in Scotland’s Capital City.

In 2020 the Commission published it’s landmark report “A Just Capital: Actions to end poverty in Edinburgh” in response to 2 years of research and over 1,000 conversations with people experiencing poverty in Edinburgh, their allies, and the support systems they use.

We found that almost one in three families in Edinburgh in poverty are pulled below the water line solely due to their housing costs. That compares with one in eight households in poverty across Scotland.

Edinburgh has long been the least affordable city in Scotland to buy or to rent a house. The cost of buying is too high for many and the lack of social housing and growth of the short term let market has meant that many are trapped in unaffordable private rental accommodation. We heard of the fear that rising housing costs are making ever larger parts of the city ‘unliveable’ and the isolation felt by the large number of people living in temporary accommodation, disconnected from family and friends, and living in conditions that none of us would consider acceptable.

Three years ago we concluded that “there is no pathway to ending poverty in Edinburgh without solving the city’s housing crisis”.  That was true in 2020, and is more so than ever in 2023.  We recognise the positive steps the Council and its partners have made in response to our calls to action on this issue – including lobbying for additional funding, regulating short term lets, taking early action to prevent homelessness, and increasing affordable housing contributions from new developments – but it is clear that there is more to do.

We call on the Council to declare a housing emergency in Edinburgh and form a new alliance with the Edinburgh Partnership, Housing Associations, Scottish Government, and the citizens of Edinburgh to define and implement the radical change that this crisis demands.

Jim McCormick, chair of Edinburgh Poverty Commission and Chief Executive of the Robertson Trust said:

“In recognising the housing emergency in Edinburgh, additional urgent action needs to follow – over and above the steps that have been taken in the last three years.  These steps have been firmly in the right direction, but coming on the back of long-term under-investment in truly affordable housing they are clearly not adequate.

While the city’s firm cross-party commitment to the Edinburgh Poverty Commissions calls to actions is clear, these cannot be achieved without a transformation in the city’s housing system.

We see this as too big a challenge for the City Council and other housing providers to solve alone and within planned resources. The challenge for our capital city is also Scotland’s challenge. We reiterate our call for the Scottish Government to recognise the scale of the crisis in Edinburgh and develop a plan with the City Council to match it. This demands nothing less than a process to attract significantly more investment.

Given the rate of social housing completions, we think further ‘tenure-switching’ will be needed. This should seek to bring in additional private stock to the city’s pool of social rented homes until overall affordable housing supply has addressed the crisis.

We call on the City Council to fully involve people at the sharpest end of the emergency – especially those who are stuck in temporary accommodation – in co-designing a recovery plan.”

Craig Sanderson, Edinburgh Poverty Commission member and Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland Board Member, said:

“Edinburgh has received insufficient Scottish Government investment for decades, reliably estimated to have been £70m every year.

In our Just Capital report in 2020, the Edinburgh Poverty Commission called for 2,000 new homes for social rent to be built in the city in each of the following ten years, double the build rate planned by the City of Edinburgh Council at that time. Actual completions in the three years since have been 257, 247 and 451.  This is a chronic shortfall, exacerbated by current predictions of a fall in completions.

So the situation is likely to get even worse unless there is an immediate injection of significant Scottish Government investment.  It also needs a more interventionist and collaborative approach by all the key public agencies which comprise the Edinburgh Partnership.”

Caroline Cawley, member of the citizen led End Poverty Edinburgh group said:

“Everyone in Edinburgh wants a safe, warm home that meets their needs. But the city just isn’t providing that for far too many of its citizens. We have a very high volume of private holiday lets and student accommodation, and private rents are rocketing. We have a severe lack of social housing, so people are left on waiting lists for far, far too long, and even when they get a house, it’s often not suitable, or has damp, mould, or a terrible heating system. We have experienced and heard many examples of long waits for repairs and poor communication.

Edinburgh desperately needs an increase in quality social housing, accessible social housing, and genuinely affordable housing. The council cannot do this alone, and more support is needed from the Scottish Government. Improving the housing situation in Edinburgh would undoubtedly have one of the biggest impacts on those experiencing poverty.”