Scottish Greens – East Renfrewshire

Councillor Swift’s Modest Proposal

Why raising rents isn’t the way to help Barrhead

I was surprised to read Conservative Councillor Jim Swift suggestion that raising rents in Barrhead would help to deal with deprivation in the area, coming as it did at the end of an article in the Barrhead News that outlined a variety of challenges faced by people living there (“Opposition councillors insist Barrhead could have avoided inclusion amongst nation’s poorest communities”).

This idea seems back to front to me: if rents were increased before employment opportunities and transport links were improved, would that not just make life less affordable for those dealing with these issues already?

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Cllr Swift’s comments were made with an eye towards securing more money to invest in Barrhead, but even there I’m not sure they add up. Increasing rent and putting extra financial pressure on locals could force people into further poverty, with rent arrears and the threat of eviction a looming possibility.  

Homelessness is a catastrophe for those threatened with it, and evictions must always be considered in these terms above all else.  That they also represent a huge failure for councils and social landlords is a secondary concern, but it’s pertinent to Cllr Swift’s point.  Between court fees, staff time, homelessness services and the rent arrears themselves, pursuing an individual household for rent and taking action to evict them can cost councils and social landlords thousands of pounds.

Any potential gains in the income from increased rents in Barrhead would have to be weighed against these potential losses, in addition to the human misery they could cause – the latter point would be enough on its own to rule out Cllr Swift’s proposal in my eyes. A member of the Conservative party is unlikely to agree with me on this point, but surely what’s needed here – as elsewhere – is a big upfront investment that will pay off socially and financially in years to come?

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I know from talking to local residents that many of them feel a sense of pride in what’s been accomplished in the area, and will quite rightly point out that conversations like the one around Barrhead’s status as one of Scotland’s most deprived areas are too general paint a true picture of what life there is actually like.

I don’t want to paint an overly simplified picture of what the problems the residents of Barrhead face look like, or of how to solve them, but I know one thing for sure: affordable housing is not a barrier to health and security but an essential element of it

David Allison

East Renfrewshire Greens

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2 comments on “Councillor Swift’s Modest Proposal

  1. Tom Taylor
    October 5, 2016

    Currently, the gap in rents between Eastwood and the Levern Valley, consisting of Barrhead, Neilston and Uplawmoor, typically sees Eastwood tenants paying higher rents than residents in the Levern Valley, a situation that has been ongoing since 1995.

    Council officials estimate that rents are approximately 20% higher on the Eastwood side of the authority for equivalent properties.

    It is estimated that approximately £5 per month more is being paid by residents of Eastwood than the residents of the Leven valley.

    Which at £60 a year per household equates to an astronomical sum that ERC have failed to recover from residents of the Levern Valley since 1995 – £2.5 million.

    If you do not advocate raising the Barrhead rents, would you consider reducing Eastwood rents.

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  2. David Allison
    October 7, 2016

    Hi Tom, apologies for not responding more promptly but it’s been a busy week!

    Average household incomes in the Eastwood area are higher than those in the Levern Valley, to a degree that out-matches the discrepancy in rental charges noted above. 2013 data suggested that the average household income was about £7,000 more per year for earners in lowest quartile or in Eastwood than it was for their counterparts in Levern Valley:

    http://www.eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=15229&p=0

    As such, it would seem reasonable to make “harmonizing” the rents in Levern Valley and Eastwood a priority only when incomes for those living in these areas had been made roughly harmonious. This is not an easy task, but one that must be taken seriously as part of a nationwide attempt to deal with poverty and build an economy that provides decent, high quality jobs:

    https://greens.scot/scotland-can/create-over-200000-new-jobs

    With regards to improving the housing situation in Eastwood, I would suggest a different priority. As both the report linked to previously and the supporting evidence for ERC’s Local Housing Strategy show, increasing the availability of affordable housing in Eastwood is a pressing concern:

    http://www.eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=7623&p=0

    This is where I think a big difference could be made to the quality (and affordability!) of life for those living in the Eastwood area. ERC have identified this need and have taken steps to deal with it, but the Scottish Greens have a more radical set of proposals for how to re-balance our current housing situation.

    Green MSP Andy Wightman has laid out a number of ideas on how this could be achieved, including capping the value of land with planning permission to allow councils to get more for their money:

    http://www.edinburghgreens.org.uk/site/news/wightman-shelter-campaign/

    Our party has also supported moves to increase regulation and cap rents in the private rented sector, which would go some way to dealing with housing need caused by poor quality or overpriced homes:

    https://greens.scot/blog/5-ways-the-scottish-greens-will-make-renting-right

    Further to this, while we are glad to see the Scottish Government commit £8.2 million to fund energy efficiency improvements, we would like to see more funding in this area to improve living standards and reduce bills for householders, provide jobs / training for those carrying out improvements, and cut emissions:

    https://greens.scot/news/energy-efficiency-funding-announcement-lacks-ambition
    https://greens.scot/news/harvie-tells-conference-of-push-for-apprenticeships/

    Thanks for your time and patience.

    David Allison
    Communications Coordinator
    East Renfrewshire Greens

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2016 by in barrhead, housing and tagged , , , , , .
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