Radical Rural Housing

Rural Housing Scotland is delighted to have been awarded funding from The Pebble Trust for a new project which will examine whether cooperative housing models such as Mutual Home Ownership Cooperatives (MHOC) can help solve the issue of lack of affordable housing for young people in the Highlands & Islands, as well as reducing individual household dependency on fossil fuels and finite resources by incorporating co-housing concepts such as communal heating systems, shared transport, growing space, shared renewables, and shared workspace.


A MHOC is an innovative housing concept, designed as an alternative to conventional home ownership. A co-op is formed and controlled by its members who are the residents of the homes. The co-op owns the homes and land, instead of residents owning an individual property. This means there is a single mortgage, held by the co-op, so the scheme is open to residents who may be unable to obtain an individual mortgage themselves.

Many rural areas of the Highlands and Islands have little to no housing available for long-term rent and cost of buying is unattainable for most young people, particularly with the current out-of-control mortgage interest rates. This is resulting in young people staying in unsuitable, temporary or unstable housing, or leaving the area altogether, despite wanting to stay.

We are particularly interested in the idea of housing being built or purchased using the MHOC model as we think it could have potential to help young people in these rural areas to move out of hidden homelessness and into affordable housing, preventing further depopulation and encouraging the development of community. However, if a group felt that this wasn’t right for them, we could support the exploration of alternative cooperative housing options.


Our new Radical Rural Housing project aims to investigate how MHOC’s could be established in the Highlands, exploring possible locations for their development and creating key information to gauge interest from young people. We aim to gather together groups of people with the goal of creating cooperatives. The project will result in a route map for the development of MHOCs in the Highlands – setting out the practical steps and tools required for groups to develop a cooperative. The route map will be published on a dedicated part of the RHS website.


This project will prioritise locations where there is significant population loss through migration and high hidden homelessness. We have examined research that has been undertaken by various agencies over recent years including The James Hutton Institute and HIE, as well as data from our own research and on-the-ground projects.

The James Hutton Institute identified Scotland’s Sparsely Populated Areas as rural areas or small towns where less than 10,000 people (the minimum population for an urban area) can be reached within 30 minutes of travel buy road or ferry. The found that, without intervention, the SPA would be at risk of dramatic demographic decline particularly of working age population. The SPA includes a large proportion of the North and West Highlands.

Within the North West Highlands, there is evidence to suggest that lack of affordable housing and employment opportunities are a particularly significant factor in the migration of working age population in Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross, however it is certainly an issue in other areas too.

If you are already part of a group in this area interested in innovative solutions to the housing crisis, would like to form a group or just find out more, then we would love to hear from you! Please contact donna@ruralhousingscotland.org