Housing associations provide the bulk of new affordable housing being built in Scotland. In some areas local councils have also started to build council houses once more.
Most of this development is rented housing but some housing associations also provide low cost home ownership through new build shared equity, open market shared equity or shared ownership. Recently some housing associations have also started to develop mid market rented housing through subsidiaries.
Opportunities and challenges
Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) such as housing associations receive grant funding from the Scottish Government to subsidise the cost of building houses enabling them to charge affordable rents. Most government funding for new affordable housing is channelled through housing associations.
The level of grant has been reducing in recent years making it more difficult for RSLs to provide rented housing at these rent levels. In rural areas in particular development has been difficult because of high development costs and few economies of scale possible in the small developments required.
Working with a housing association has been the main way rural communities have developed new affordable housing in their area. There are many ways communities can work together with housing associations to ensure housing built meets local need and reflects community wishes in its design and location.
Communities working with housing associations
There are many examples of communities working with housing associations to deliver affordable rented housing in their areas.
The Durness Housing Initiative involved the community working with Albyn Housing Society to develop badly needed new rented housing, whilst the community in Tyndrum worked with Rural Stirling Housing Association to undertake a housing needs survey and agree a local lettings initiative.
Following the community buy-out of the island, the community on Gigha made land available at low cost to Fyne Homes Housing Association to build the first new housing on the island for decades.
A community initiated housing needs survey in Whitsome led to the Berwickshire Housing Association building new homes, and a similar approach on Colonsay led to four new affordable houses being built by West Highland Housing Association.
The role of housing associations
The management and performance of housing associations is regulated through the Scottish Housing Regulator; housing associations registered with the Regulator are also known as Registered Social Landlords (RSLs). Being an RSL allows housing associations to apply for grant funding for development from the Scottish Government but also means that they are required to manage and allocate their housing within the guidance issued by the Regulator.
This guidance does contain some flexibility and communities have been able to negotiate local lettings initiatives with housing associations to give some priority to local people in the allocation of new housing built in their area.
Housing associations are not-for-profit organisations managed by a management committee drawn from their members. Most housing associations have an open membership and it usually costs £1 to join. Once a member you are able to stand for election to the management committee and influence decision making. There are over 200 housing associations in Scotland with most rural areas having a local or regional association which develops housing in their area.