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?
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?
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.
East Renfrewshire Greens