Angry Hjaltland tenants have blasted a proposed rent increase, with one resident labelling it “beyond the joke” and questioning whether the organisation had lost sight of its charitable aims.
Renters have spoken out after the Hjaltland Housing Association notified residents of their intention to increase rent by four per cent. This follows a rent increase of three per cent last year, leaving some tenants struggling to cope with escalating prices.
With frustrations bubbling over one Hjaltland resident launched a Facebook page, attempting to mobilise tenants in opposition to the
rise. As of yesterday morning, the group had attracted just under 70 “likes”.
On the website of Scottish charity regulator Oscr, Hjaltland’s aim is said to be the “relief of those in need by reason of age, ill health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage”.
Peter Mckay, who stays at Hjaltland’s Hill Grind scheme, said that he was driven to start the group because of the combination of repeated rent increases and stagnant wages.
He said: “I work with the council. I’ve no had a substantial payrise on anything in 10 years… they’re taking more than we can afford.”
Mr Mckay said that he had seen his rent increase three-and-a-half per cent last year and would struggle financially if a further four per cent increase was introduced this year. On Facebook others have shared stories similar to Mr Mckay.
One member, Vivien Hawes, wrote: “I love my house but I’m spending more than a third of my income on rent and working for the NHS I haven’t had a pay rise for 5 years.”
Another, Nicola Bowie, said: “I’m already paying out more for a Hjaltland two-bed house than my mum is for a council three-bed house.
“I’m a single working mum and don’t get any housing benefit help and my entire months wages and a bit more is spent on Hjaltland’s rent alone. If I didn’t receive working tax credits there is no way I’d be able to afford to live or work.”
Mr Mckay said that he felt that disgruntlement was now the dominant emotion among Hjaltland residents.
“If you were to chap a few Hjaltland doors I don’t think you’d find one person who’d say it was value for money.”
He added: “They never have a year where the rent stays the same, for a charitable organisation how can they justify that? They’re not taking in the fundamentals of what’s going on in the community.”
Neil Anderson, who lives at the housing association’s Gremmasgaet scheme, was another resident to approach The Shetland Times with concerns about the proposed increase.
He said: “They’re outpricing the single parent or even the working couple.”
Mr Anderson added: “They’re getting too big. They’re losing sight of what they originally set out to do which is to provide affordable housing.”
He said that many residents he had spoken to felt they were being priced out of the schemes and said that he would be applying for a council house if the rent increase was introduced.
Hjaltland chief executive Bryan Leask defended the proposed rise, however, saying that the housing association’s policy was to alter rent on a yearly basis. The increase is based on the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation, plus half a per cent.
Last year the “global” increase across all Hjaltland accommodation was three per cent, though some saw their rent increased by slightly less or more. This year’s figure, he stressed, was just a proposal and feedback from residents was taken on board.
“We are consulting with our residents and no decision has been made yet”, he said.
Mr Leask added: “Obviously we have great sympathy for people whose wages haven’t increased and we’re always looking at ways we can create efficiencies. But the reality is that’s what our costs have gone up by.”
The housing association also has to ensure that it has “set aside enough to do the repairs we have to do”, Mr Leask said.
Next week Hjaltland’s committee will decide on rent increases for the coming year and responses to a tenant survey were being compiled and the feedback would be relayed to the committee, he added.