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Housing

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th December 2013.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

That point is well made. It is possible that Duncan McNeil’s committee work will further inform Parliament of his perspective on that.

A great many of the speeches focused on supply—supply, supply, supply—and the social rented sector. Those issues are crucial, but they are not everything.

Alex Johnstone told us that supply overall has fallen by more than half and he laid the blame for that at the door of budget cuts. He may well be right, but it is pretty breathtaking to hear that from a supporter of the UK Government’s austerity programme. Cuts are not coming by magic; they are coming because of deliberate political choices.

The minister made much of the fact that other political parties did not offer numerical targets for new build social housing in their 2011 election manifestos. However, one political party not only committed to reversing the cuts to the housing budget but showed how it could be done—and it was not the Scottish National Party.

Maureen Watt’s contribution suffered from a little hint of tribal aggression here or there, but she was the first member to mention bank lending, which is important. To try to understand the housing market problems that we face without addressing bank lending to developers and the mortgage market is pretty meaningless. We are cursed with the dominance of a tiny number of vast megabanks instead of the diverse network of local smaller banks that we see in countries including Germany, which has not had the same problems as our banking system has had with lending into the real economy.

John Wilson devoted some of his remarks to the welfare reform agenda. It is meaningless to discuss housing without looking at the context of incomes. That means considering welfare and acknowledging the context in which many private sector employees experience the poverty pay that many private sector employers provide, and in which public sector workers continue to see real-terms pay cuts year after year.

Those issues directly connect to the housing problems that we need to address. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I believe that we can put more measures into the Housing (Scotland) Bill to address the affordability issues that many people face, in particular in the private rented sector.

I mentioned to Richard Baker rents in Aberdeen of £800 to £900. In Glasgow and Edinburgh there are pockets where there are similar rent levels. That is certainly not because the mortgage holders of those properties are paying very high mortgages; it is because of excessive profiteering. Rent controls have a role to play.

Energy performance standards have a role, as well. We can make a clear requirement for landlords and letting agents to bring their properties up to a decent energy performance standard before they put them on the private rented market, which would ensure that the people who live in those homes find them affordable to live in. Many people are living with extraordinary increases in energy costs.

There is an opportunity to address eviction and harassment. A relatively small number of people experience illegal eviction and harassment, but for them it is a profound challenge to their ability to live a decent life. Local authorities could be given a duty to investigate unlawful evictions and harassment and the power and resources to take cases directly to the courts.

I will seek and even hold out a little hope for a little cross-party support when I bring those measures for debate on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. There is an opportunity—at least once in a while—to put the independence issue to the side. We will have plenty of opportunities over the next 10 months to debate independence, but when we talk about the Housing (Scotland) Bill and the measures that we need to put in place to address the needs that exist in society we should put it aside—just for a wee while.