The research was conducted by Tighean Innse Gall for the Hebridean Housing Partnership in order to ascertain future priorities and where new social housing provision should be targeted.
While the report makes no explicit mention of the need for a new, alternative approach that would better suit the needs of the islands, it is clear that the current provision is unsuitable as many desire to own their own properties, but are unable to do so through a combination of factors – either no access to a croft to make use of the Croft House Scheme or an inability to secure a mortgage through either high house values or the cost of building in the islands.
That particular aspect, as the report alludes to, will be even more acute now as the research was conducted before the huge increase in the price of materials through issues in the supply chain associated with the pandemic and Brexit.
The TIG study was sent to all households in the islands with a return rate of 15 per cent, just under 2,000 responses. A number of meetings were also held with the likes of community-owned estates and community councils.
The report focussed on “aspiring movers” – those looking to move to another property in the foreseeable – of which there were 314, the vast majority of which were either single-person households or couples.
The report says that the “common themes coming through from respondents’ comments were that prices on the open market were too high, houses on the open market tend to need a lot of refurbishment, that they were getting out-bid by people moving from the mainland, that there were no decent properties available for private rent, that it is difficult to move up the HHP housing waiting list if you are single, working and have no dependents and that self-building on a croft is difficult due to the length of time it takes and the rising costs of building”.
The report highlights the following comment from one of the respondents: “My experience is that housing feels unachievable for many people my age (mid twenties) and there are no suitable houses within our price range in the place that we grew up in and would like to start our own families”.
While most wanted to move to the Stornoway area for work and access to services, there was also a significant demand in certain rural areas - in particular North Harris and Scalpay and Uig and Bernera.
The report said: “The Bernera meeting had examples of people having to move to Stornoway because they couldn’t access affordable housing on Bernera. The feeling was that the community was not being supported. When someone would come forward and say they wanted to live in the area, they were offered a house in another village, for example Barvas, when the person had no connection to that village.”
Even where New Supply Shared Equity Schemes are available through the Scottish Government and HHP, a high number of the aspiring movers are still unable to afford it without additional assistance from the “bank of mum and dad” or higher paid employment.
“South Harris has a particular issue in that all those that choose this area could not afford to purchase on the open market, and only one respondent could qualify for NSS”, the report said. “This difficulty is directly related to the higher property values in this part of the Outer Hebrides and possibly the seasonal nature of employment in this area. This is also reflected in the difficulty HHP had finding purchasers for NSSE properties in South Harris. The Community meetings also highlighted an issue with croft prices rising beyond affordable levels with a second croft in South Harris on the market for offers over £200,000.”
On the Croft House Scheme, which has been a vital source of housing provision in the islands but is limited to those who have a croft, the report said it is currently facing a number of issues, such as “red-tape” and rising costs. It details that an important element in the scheme is the “sweat equity” – labour provided by the applicant and/or friends and family which can be as much as 40 per cent.
In terms of general background, the report predicts that the number of households in the Outer Hebrides will fall by 2.3% between 2018 and 2028, compared to a projected increase in Orkney of 4.8% and Shetland of 3.5% and a 4.9% increase for Scotland as a whole. The average income in the Outer Hebrides is £26,893 which is lower than the average incomes in Orkney and Shetland and well below the Scottish average.
Iain Macmillan, HHP Chair said “These are uncertain and challenging times. This report will play a key part as the Board review our forward plans and the role that we can play in addressing the issues facing our islands and our communities. We are committed to working with our partners in meeting the challenges ahead and in ensuring that people have access to the quality housing they need.”
The report also identified a small level of housing need - around 60 households - where people have not applied to HHP for housing. “We will be looking at whether our current plans need to be changed to take account of this,” said Mr MacMillan. “We also continue to urge anyone who needs housing now or in the future to register an application with us so we can take account of this as we plan future new build development.”