More than 10 per cent of Shetland’s population could be in need of housing, according to a presentation given by the housing department to Lerwick Community Council on Monday.
At present there are 697 applications on the waiting list for homes in Lerwick, with 1,005 applications for Shetland as a whole. New applications to the list run at 49 per month. Applications from households with children form about a third of the waiting list in all areas of Shetland. Housing service manager Vaila Simpson said: “There continues to be a long waiting list for housing especially in and around Lerwick, where the mismatch between supply and demand affects all households. In particular single people and households with children may have to wait a long time for a solution to high levels of housing need.”
Currently 126 of the total applications are suspended – 39 through debt and 86 because they are deemed to have no local connection to Shetland.
In Shetland as a whole single person households account for around a third of the adult population, with those between the ages of 25 and retirement the biggest group in housing need, accounting for nearly half of the waiting list.
The need for single-person housing in Lerwick is particularly acute, with 366 applications – 52.5 per cent of the housing waiting list. Currently only 29 per cent of the council stock is suitable for single people. There are currently 23 applications from single people under 18, of which 22 are for Lerwick.
There are various reasons for the demand for housing in the town. Many applicants live with family and friends – 30 per cent of the waiting list for Lerwick – and this affects the “hosts” as well as the applicants themselves.
The next biggest group is transfer applicants, who are probably overcrowded or who want to move to Lerwick from a country area. Others are currently living in private rented accommodation or are owner occupiers, and just under 10 per cent are either homeless awaiting permanent housing or have been provided with temporary housing until they find their own alternative housing. The council has various duties towards people who are homeless. If someone is unintentionally homeless, in priority need and has a local connection with Shetland, the council has a legal duty to provide temporary housing (either SIC or a Hjaltland Housing Association property) until permanent housing can be offered to them.
If someone is unintentionally homeless, but does not have a priority need, the council has a duty to provide temporary housing for a reasonable period and advice and assistance to help the person find their own housing. Anyone has the right to apply as homeless, and have their circumstances assessed. New legislation means that the council has to ensure by 2012 that all unintentionally homeless people have access to permanent housing. Based on this year’s figures, this would equate to 157 households.
The number of homeless presentations since 2003 has increased, and at 262 is already greater than the total number of general council vacancies available for relet each year throughout the whole of Shetland, which was 233 in 2008/09. This pressure is increased in that over 50 per cent of homeless households want to live in Lerwick.
The council is thus less and less able to assist applicants with more general housing needs, and could mean that more households will see being “homeless” as the only solution to their housing need. For example, there are 263 applicants for housing in Lerwick who are potentially homeless because they are currently sharing amenities or cannot remain in their current housing long term. The council is now working with Hjaltland, which has a number of smaller properties, to ease to housing need.
Housing officials are also operating an incentive scheme to encourage folk to downsize, although no-one would ever be forced to leave a property, and mutual exchanges are providing a solution in some cases.
In future the council plans to knock down Lerwick’s Hoofields (where the 33 chalets are deemed to be coming to the end of their life) and develop the other side, then redevelop Hoofields, thus increasing the housing stock.