Contributing to a solution: Housing in Uist

At the request of Cllr Iain MacNeil, a seminar on housing in Uist and Barra was held on the 14th of November 2019 in Lìonacleit, Benbecula, to re-energise the public sector-led approach and promote cooperation through a new policy framework for the area.

The Uist Collective: Uibhistich Òga, a group formed following CoDeL’s Young Leaders programme in 2019, was asked to set the scene for the day’s discussion. The group, which is exploring means by which they can positively influence several local issues including housing, is keen to resolve the shortage of suitable houses as this is one of the key stumbling blocks inhibiting many people from returning to the island.

The issue is not a lack of information or data pointing to the problems, the group believes, but evidencing the need which will draw in the financial support. A common anecdote is of older folk staying in a family home alone, leading to higher incidences of loneliness and an under-utilised housing resource. When elderly family members pass away, relatives may hold on to houses and use them for holiday homes or self-catering accommodation. The group counted 88 self-catering houses on AirB&B alone in Uist and Barra. This restricts the amount of housing stock available for long-term let.

Another issue is the need for appropriate housing stock in addition to that managed by the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP), the not-for-profit housing association in the Western Isles. HHP works to address homelessness, for example. (The Shelter Scotland defines homelessness as those who don’t have a right to stay in a house, such as staying at a friend’s house, or do not have suitable housing.)

Social housing needs can be different from other housing needs, such as affordable and shared equity stock. If the goal is to enable young people who want to move to Uist and Barra to do so, then different housing must be made available. There are some good examples of trusts working in partnership to bring appropriate housing to market, including the West Harris Trust, the Arran Development Trust and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations.

The Uist Collective would like to help drive this conversation forward. In the coming months, they’re hoping to collect data on potential returners and migrants to Uist. They’ll use this evidence to create a small number of localised plans at district level, based on where there is demand, in the hope that this may help evidence the need and accelerate the rate of progress.

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