Of Rent Caps & Rent Pressure Zones


Posted by in September's Magazine

For many in Leith and across Edinburgh as well as cities throughout the UK, renting a home is becoming less and less affordable. Budgets are increasingly stretched and often the last thing people need is a rent hike, pricing them out of decent housing in their area. As the MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, many people have come to me over recent months facing exactly this problem.

There are of course a multitude of reasons for the rising costs of renting here – from a rapidly growing population in Edinburgh, and increasing demand for housing in key areas of the city, to an increase in buy-to-rent property purchases; from a rise in purpose built student accommodation to more and more holiday lets (as hospitality websites like Airbnb become ever more popular): the demand on Edinburgh’s housing stock as a whole is stark and for many the situation is simply unaffordable.

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Edinburgh has the largest private rented sector in Scotland – and the number of people reliant upon rented accommodation is increasing, as house prices continue to rise and more and more people are unfairly priced out of the homeownership market. And to add to this, experts are predicting a 20% increase in rental costs over the next 5 years – on top of the 25% increase we’ve seen in the last 6 years already. The situation is undesirable, it’s unsustainable and it’s detrimental to our society as a whole.

Therefore, one of the possible solutions to this problem would be to create Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ) in Edinburgh, potentially including some or all of Leith – something discussed by City of Edinburgh Council recently and backed by the SNP group on the Council.

The Scottish Government legislated last year to give councils the power to create RPZ and these powers are expected to come into force in the winter. City of Edinburgh Council has an opportunity to act and support tenants in those areas of the city that have seen rents rise at exponential levels, like in parts of Leith.

Although this is a matter for the Council, it is clear to me from listening to communities that there is real appetite to explore using RPZ, at least as part of the solution, especially given the forecasts for the coming years.

When implemented elsewhere in the world, RPZ and similar moves have had a largely positive impact on the housing market. Obvious examples come from the US where rent controls have ensured that apartments and flats in cities, such as New York, have remained more affordable for more people.

By having a targeted programme of RPZ, we can protect tenants in our city living in areas that have seen the most significant rent hikes in recent years, as in much of Leith. We can also keep vibrant and emerging areas like Leith affordable for both those who have lived in the community for years and those who have moved to the area and played a role in developing it – like those working in Leith’s remarkable creative industries, those running local businesses and young people beginning their careers or starting families.

Capping rents would also help those working hard to get out of poverty and help build inclusive communities. Overall, keeping rents low in key areas will benefit all of our society, and help ensure that tenants receive a fairer deal for the flats and houses that they call home.

We have to remember the negative effects that extortionate rental costs have on people in Leith and across Edinburgh, our communities and our local economy. High rents often take money out of our local economy and away from working parents who are trying to make ends meet. They force students and other young people into working longer hours and hamper possibilities for saving for a deposit. They can force people out of areas that they’ve called home for years and away from the communities that support them.

Extortionate rental costs exploit those working hard to make Leith and Edinburgh the great places that they are and, at the extreme end, I have had cases where people have had to declare themselves homeless and use foodbanks as a result of increases to their rent. This cannot go on.

Responsible landlords, who charge a fair amount of rent, have absolutely nothing to fear from Rent Pressure Zones, and local businesses and local people in Leith and across Edinburgh have plenty to gain. Ever rising rental costs are negatively affecting our society and damaging the wellbeing of our communities – it’s time for action. Let’s use the power to create RPZ and help ensure that Leith is an affordable place to live for Leithers and new Leithers alike.

Twitter: @BenMacpherson

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