Housing Aspirations in Hard Times
3.1. As highlighted in Chapter 2, the concept of aspirations is both contested and complex. In essence however, it captures how personal goals are situated in, and constrained by, broader structural factors. As our data highlights aspirations are formed by a complex relationship between people's subjective desires (their personal 'preferences'), and objective reality (what their economic resources and housing opportunities allow).
3.2. By understanding aspirations as being influenced by the context in which they are formed we can better understand their dynamic and changing nature. Aspirations are affected by particular opportunities and constraints, for example the Right to Buy afforded many households in the 1980s the opportunity to buy their council house at heavily discounted rates. By contrast, the lack of available affordable housing at present has resulted in more and more young people living in the PRS for longer. To fully understand people's housing aspirations it is important to understand how personal goals are embedded in, and shaped by, the wider social, economic and cultural context, which changes over time. This dimension has often been neglected in housing policy debates, where aspirations are often considered only as individual 'preferences' without any reflection on how these are shaped and come to be. As the remainder of this sub-section will highlight it is however vital to consider the dynamic relationship between the two (subjective desires and objective reality).
Levelling Down of Expectations
3.3. An examination of generational differences highlights this point well. Our data indicated strong aspirations to own amongst the older cohort within our sample (aged 45+), with people commenting how it was the most natural progression for people of their generation, and how they were supported in pursuing owner-occupation by policies such as the Right to Buy and Mortgage Interest Tax Relief at Source:
"My generation that's what we did, we got onto the housing ladder" (Participant 6, female/65+/homeowner/Falkirk).
3.4. By contrast the under 35s were more pessimistic about their ability to get on the property ladder, citing 'affordability' as the main barrier to realising their long-term preferences for homeownership.
3.5. People however thought about affordability in different ways linked to how it subjectively related to their own personal situation. For some, the financial barrier was meeting the monthly PRS rent, for others it was saving the substantial deposit required for a mortgage, whilst others faced more immediate challenges of having the job security and income required to meet monthly housing payments, or had experienced income drops because of Housing Benefit shortfalls caused by welfare reform. Other demands on household income (e.g. maintenance, bills) were also factors:
"It's the deposit. I've got money in the bank but there's no way if they were asking £30,000, maybe £10,000. There should be a bit of flexibility for first-time-buyers because they are wanting people to buy houses, but if you put in legal fees and everything it's costing you a lot of money" (Participant 26, male/35-44/social renter/Aberdeen).
"I'd like to move up in the council to make enough to support the weight of a mortgage" (Participant 63, female/25-34/PRS/Renfrewshire).
3.6. Indeed, discussions of affordability highlighted strong links between housing and labour markets, with economic precariousness being a key challenge for those trying to access homeownership: a finding echoed by other research (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; McKee 2015). Affordability then is not simply a housing issue, but reflects the wider economic prosperity of the nation, including wage levels and the cost of living as Vignette 1 highlights. Yet these dimensions are not necessarily well captured by objective measures, which historically tend to use affordability ratios or residual incomes (Tang 2009). Further qualitative research is needed to explore in more depth these subjective interpretations of affordability across different groups and geographies, in order to provide policy makers with a more nuanced understanding of how people manage their housing costs in relation to other pressures on their income. This in turn could help inform policy debates about housing affordability across all tenures, as well as provide evidence for the development of support measures.
Vignette 1 Economic Precariousness: George's Story
George, a young single male living in supported accommodation struggles with having to pay full rent and council tax as well as other household bills. Although happy in his social rented property he expressed a long-term preference to one day own his own home. However, changes in the wider economy have tempered his ability to do so. Despite having two jobs he was still struggling to make ends meet, never mind save up the required amount for a deposit:
"It's just money I think to be honest […] It's hard. I work two low paid jobs because of the fact that with the one job most of my money's away before I have even got food or shopping and anything like that" (Participant 25, male/25-34/social renter/Glasgow).
George described how he was also trying to save for a van in order that he could go into business as a self employed gardener. George admits that the realisation of this ambition looks less likely as each day passes.
3.7. Whilst the majority of participants in the study articulated long-term preferences to own their home, it is nonetheless important to avoid simply equating aspirations with homeownership. Many of the current (and previous) social renters in our sample asserted a desire to remain in the sector. In part this suggests a pragmatic adjustment of their housing expectations in relation to their financial circumstances (i.e. they cannot access or afford to service a mortgage), but it also reflects an awareness of the positive dimensions of social renting. These include security of tenure; not having responsibility for repairs and maintenance; and an affordable rent:
"The benefits [of social renting] are it's more affordable than to try and do something privately. I think there's some kind of reassurance in the fact that if something drastically went wrong you've got somebody that you can phone that will come and hopefully fix it" (Participant 46, female/35-44/social renter/Perth and Kinross).
"I would definitely take social renting. I think you are safer. You are less likely to get screwed and it is easier to get repairs done, definitely. Private renting is a mixed bag" (Participant 14, female/45-54/homeowner/Glasgow).
3.8. These important dimensions are echoed in an evaluation of tenant satisfaction recently published by the Scottish Housing Regulator (Craigforth 2015).
Renting: the new normal?
3.9. This levelling down of expectations to own is in turn linked to the increase in renting as the 'new normal'. The growing phenomena of young people under 35 spending longer periods of their lives in the PRS has been well documented by research into 'Generation Rent' (see for example, McKee and Hoolachan 2015). This label however encapsulates a broad and diverse range of experiences:
- The 'Squeezed Middle' were typified by those with long-term preferences for homeownership, but who could not yet afford a deposit and therefore had little 'choice' but to rent privately. They did not see social housing as an option, partly because they did not perceive that they would have sufficient priority to qualify, but also because they had no or little control over where they might be allocated a property, and feared being put in a 'bad' neighbourhood where they did not want to live. Vignette 2 highlights some of the issues faced by this group.
- Households on low and/or insecure incomes in the PRS expressed more mixed tenure preferences. Some aspired to a social rented property because of perceptions it was more affordable, secure and the landlord would maintain the property, whereas others held long-term goals to be homeowners, despite significant financial barriers.
- The under 25s in our sample tended to be still living in the family home. Some were very pessimistic about their chances of accessing homeownership, whilst others did not seem to have a grasp of the reality of the housing market and what housing costs in relation to average wages. Student debt was a further issue for some, for loan repayments both reduced the income they had available to save for a mortgage deposit and spend on current housing costs.
Vignette 2 - The Squeezed Middle: Alison's Story
Alison and her partner managed to get onto the property ladder with ease in 2004 when they bought what they intended to be a one bedroom starter flat. When their son was born they were on course to realise their aspirations of buying a larger family home when the banking crisis and subsequent recession completely changed their financial position. They ended up voluntarily surrendering their property back to their mortgage provider, as they were struggling with repayments and it no longer met their needs. However, they were still left with outstanding mortgage debt to repay due to negative equity. The family are now living in the private rented sector, and do not see themselves buying another property:
"My partner works night shifts, and we were in a one-bed flat and basically there was no place for him to get peace and quiet to sleep. But unfortunately due to the recession and stuff and money, we couldn't afford to get a mortgage for a bigger property. So basically we ended up voluntarily surrendering our flat" (Participant 5 female/25-34/PRS/Fife).
Location, Location, Location
3.10. Despite a tendency in housing debates to equate aspirations with homeownership, this research highlighted that location (as opposed to tenure or house-type) was the most important element of people's housing preferences:
"I didn't buy the house I bought the location. It's not the ideal house" (Participant 75, female/45-54/homeowner/Dunblane).
3.11. This highlights that people buy into a neighbourhood, as much as a particular property or tenure type, a finding reinforced by research into residential location preferences (Hedman et al 2011; Rossi 1955).
3.12. The dimensions of location that were emphasised as important were wide-ranging and often varied by age and household circumstances:
- Access to labour markets: being able to access paid employment. Often cited as a challenge for people in rural areas.
- Access to services: both public and private, such as libraries, post offices, banks, housing offices, GP surgeries, local shops and pharmacies.
- Good transport links: to work, but also where a household lacked a car and needed to access services and amenities (as outlined above).
- Perceived quality of schools: one of the top priorities for those with children.
- Access to leisure and shopping: needs varied across the life cycle. For example, whilst older households made references to retirement pursuits, those with children were interested in youth activities.
- Neighbours and the Neighbourhood: 'good' neighbours and a tidy well-kept environment including public spaces; often contrasted to noisy, anti-social neighbourhoods with perceptions of drugs and crime.
- Green spaces: such as parks and other public areas to be used for leisure and recreation.
3.13. Peoples' location preferences were complex and multifaceted as one participant reflected:
"Because the place you live just affects your life in so many ways. It affects your commute. It affects your ability to do your ordinary errands. It affects your ability to have your kids in a decent school. So the place affects so many other things. Whether you are in a mortgage or if you rent or not, it affects the amount of money you have in your pocket" (Participant 14, female/45-54/homeowner/Glasgow).
3.14. In addition to labour market and infrastructure dimensions, the social dimensions of place were also evident, most commonly, the importance of being close to, and embedded within, family and community networks as Vignette 3 illustrates. As previous research has highlighted, place attachment is particularly strong in low-income neighbourhoods (Batty et al 2011).
3.15. Whilst the younger members in our sample emphasised the importance of family support in providing childcare, those at the older end of the age spectrum highlighted the need to be close to family for support due to illness or disability. Where no family was present locally, neighbours were often utilised as a valuable safety-net.
3.16. Perhaps unsurprisingly those individuals who ranked tenure or type as more important reported having problems with the condition of their property (type), or were unhappy with the cost and insecurity of living in the PRS (tenure).
3.17. Yet it was clear that people do not think of these elements (type, tenure and location) in isolation; they are entangled and interwoven, and reflect need, opportunities and constraints both now and in the future. Debates about housing aspirations therefore need to situate people's preferences within this broader context, considering not only the dynamic relationship between the subjective and the objective, but also between tenure, house type and location.
Vignette 3 Place Attachment - Julia's Story
Julia moved out of the parental home and in with her partner who had a mortgaged property in her local area. She says they hope to one day be able to move to a bigger property, but she would not consider moving out of the area where she grew up because of family ties and strong place attachment:
"Well I grew up in Erskine, also my family are nearby so they are not far away. I am very much family orientated so I always nip up to my gran's, my auntie's and they always nip round to mine. I like having a full house and inviting everyone over. The schools in the area are great and so thinking for the future when I eventually have kids, I know that the schools will be great because I went to them, and I know basically everyone in the area"(Participant 45, female/16-24/living with partner/Renfrewshire).
Julia wanted her children to grow up in the same area that she did, so they could enjoy the same family bonds she took support from.
Drivers of Housing Aspirations
3.18. As this section will highlight, aspirations are shaped by the dynamic relationship between subjective preferences, and the objective reality of economic constraint and available housing opportunities.
Shortage of Affordable Housing
3.19. Across the sample individuals asserted the need for more 'affordable' housing to be built: both in the private (homeownership) market, and with regards to more traditional social rented housing. As outlined in 3.5, participants had diverse perceptions of affordability. They reflected both on the costs of purchasing/renting a home relative to incomes (and compared to previous generations), a perceived shortage of supply, as well as potential developments being hindered by people demonstrating 'not in my back yard' attitudes (NIMBYism). Whilst some reflected on the challenges this created for their own housing opportunities, older participants made reference to the negative impact the perceived 'housing crisis' was having on their children and grandchildren whom they regarded as being disadvantaged. This issue of inter-generational inequalities will be returned to later:
"This house which has 4 bedrooms and another sitting room was under £5000 when we bought it; they've (house prices) gone up astronomically […] I think they have to try and come down a bit so that people, young people particularly, can have a chance to buy a house" (Participant 10, female/65+/homeowner/Highlands).
"There is so little social housing left. It is very, very difficult for people that are on low to medium wages to get married, have children and have them living in a reasonable dwelling" (Participant 14 female/45-54/homeowner/Glasgow).
3.20. The Right to Buy policy was frequently cited as a driver of this generational shift in housing opportunities, with many participants commenting how pleased they were it was to be abolished. Including those who had directly benefited.
3.21. Amongst those with frustrated aspirations to own, the links between housing opportunities and the wider economy were apparent, with young households despondent that their salary could not service a mortgage never mind allow them to save up for the required deposit to buy a property. This sense of frustration at being trapped in the PRS has been echoed in other research on this topic of 'Generation Rent' (McKee 2015). Yet as will be discussed further, there were also PRS tenants who wished to access social housing and who wished to stay in the PRS. Not just to cushion themselves from the impact of Housing Benefit reforms (see 3.5), but also recognising it as a vital safety-net in times of crisis. For example, some participants described social housing as being critical to them being able to escape domestic violence or homelessness, others how it provided them with the supported accomodation they needed to live independently.
3.22. Across the sample older participants were more likely to recognise the positives of social renting, and argue for a return to a greater role for the sector in housing the nation's population. As the quote below suggests this is perhaps because they had direct personal experience of living in the sector and could appreciate the benefits it could offer:
"I was brought up in a council house all my life […] it's good in a way because if you are having a hard time and things go wrong with the house it's going to get done as part of your rent whereas (with homeownership) you've not just got to pay the mortgage you've got to find money for anything that goes wrong with the house […] I think there should be more social housing to rent" (Participant 50, female/45-54/social renter/Falkirk).
3.23. Whilst the majority of participants expressed long-term preferences for homeownership, this was not a universal position, with positive aspirations to rent (in both social and private sectors) also evident. These diverging opinions underline the need for a broad spectrum of policy responses to meet the preferences of different socio-demographic groups. This point will be returned to in Chapter 4.
Precariousness of the PRS at Bottom End
3.24. The PRS is a highly diverse sector, and growing even more so. Historically associated with mobile young professionals and students, it is now housing a much broader spectrum of households including those on low and insecure incomes, and in receipt of social security benefits.
3.25. The private renters in our sample placed a strong emphasis on the flexibility the tenure had to offer, and of having a landlord who was responsible for repairs and maintenance:
"I like the fact that if anything goes wrong, me and my flatmate don't have to pay for it. The landlord has got to cover it. It's not really my responsibility" (Participant 20 female/25-34/PRS/Glasgow).
3.26. For those with financial resources, they were able to navigate the market and secure a property that offered a good standard of living and fitted in with their lifestyle. Those in the 'squeezed middle' with frustrated aspirations to own were however more likely to lament the cost of renting privately, which was often regarded as 'throwing money down the drain':
"Yes certainly you can't avoid but feel a very big chunk of your monthly income is going down the drain, it's not going anywhere you know, you're not making it work for you in the future" (Participant 33, male/25-34/PRS/Stirling).
3.27. However, it is at the bottom-end of the market where more acute problems were apparent. Low-income households were in a more vulnerable position, especially in high demand rental markets such as Aberdeen. The experiences of our private renters highlighted the persistence of illegal landlord practices and a lack of enforcement of existing legislation, for example:
- Unwillingness of landlords to carry-out repairs: most commonly mentioned were in relation to draughty properties with poor/faulty heating, highlighting possible breaches of the 'Repairing Standard'.
- Unlawful retention of deposits: not being held in Tenancy Deposit Schemes, with tenants also drawing attention to disputes about deposits being retained for cleaning and/or repainting.
- Lack of written notice of landlord inspections: turning up at the property unannounced for no reason.
3.28. A further recurring theme was a lack of security because of the short-term nature of the assured tenancy agreement (6 months typically). This was a source of anxiety for some, especially those with young children. Also apparent was a reluctance by tenants to uphold and enforce their rights for fear of a summary eviction, and/or the denial of the all-important landlord reference they needed to get another property. This is highlighted in Vignette 4.
3.29. A strong theme emerging from all the PRS tenant interviews was the importance of the tenant/landlord relationship. Whilst those with negative experiences described unresponsive or over-bearing landlords, by contrast those with more positive narratives stressed good communication and a quick response when they reported issues.
3.30. Perceptions of the PRS, sometimes founded on direct experience, sometimes not, proved to be a pivotal driver for aspirations to live in other tenures: both homeownership and social renting. This underlines how personal preferences cannot be considered out of context, for they are shaped and moulded by the wider context of opportunity and constraint in the housing system.
Vignette 4: Tenants' Rights in the PRS - Sharon's Story
Sharon lived with her partner and two sons. She had previously made a homeless application to her local authority but was told that she did not have enough points. The family then had no choice but to take privately rented accommodation in Dundee, but found that it was too expensive, and moved to cheaper PRS accommodation in nearby rural Fife.
The family appreciated the quietness of their location and the fact that unlike their last tenancy, they did not have to suffer the behaviour of anti-social neighbours, or living in flatted accommodation. They were less happy about the condition of the property, including faulty heating, and the landlord's unwillingness to do repairs:
"If the landlord was good at doing repairs I'd probably be a lot happier but I just feel it's a waste of time, you tell them that some things need done and they say they're going to get somebody out to fix it and they never ever do" (Participant 1, female/45-54/PRS/Dundee).
Sharon was reluctant to enforce her rights regarding repairs, because of fears it would damage her relationship with the landlord and the family would be asked to leave. She wished to exit the sector and access a social rented property but felt it was unlikely to happen.
Changes over the Life-cycle
3.31. Considering the other dimension of housing aspirations: people's subjective preferences, these were shaped to a degree by stage in the life cycle. People envisaged their housing needs, and in turn their preferences, changing over time because of shifts in household size (both growing and declining), and a need for adaptations in older age, or because of an illness or disability.
3.32. For example, those with young children or planning a family in the future (typically 24-35 age bracket) expressed preferences for a family-sized home, with a front and back door, and a good sized garden for their children:
"We want a family house in which we can stay for a long time. A garage, garden and at least three bedrooms are a must" (Participant 63, female/25-34/PRS/Renfrewshire).
3.33. Young adults still in the parental home aspired to independent living, whilst those already in the rental sector expressed frustrated aspirations to own. This is not surprising for the housing studies literature has long highlighted the importance of leaving the parental home in transitions to adulthood, and how this is often bound up with new family formation (see for example, Jones 1995).
3.34. Older households (65+, most of whom owned their property in our sample) talked about downsizing not for a smaller property per se, but rather to have everything on the one level (e.g. bungalow or cottage type property). Indeed, many of our older participants lived in properties much larger than they required:
"Given my age, I am a pensioner I would probably think about moving to a flat, a level flat, maybe a bungalow or a ground floor flat" (Participant 66, female/65+/homeowner/Renfrewshire).
3.35. The majority however expressed no real desire to move, with several claiming they already had their 'ideal' property. This was linked to wanting to age in place and remain in their home, which they had become attached to over time, and in which they had accumulated a lot of possessions:
"We have been married for a thousand years now and we have got a lot of stuff […] financially I don't need to downsize and I am in the house of my dreams. I will not be moving from this house other than in a wooden box" (Participant 28 male/65+/homeowner/Aberdeen City).
3.36. By contrast recent research has highlighted a desire amongst some older households to change tenure due to challenges in maintaining their ex-local authority property, and the need for adaptations (Satsangi et al 2015). This was not a theme that emerged in this study, but the cost of maintenance was an issue raised by homeowners more generally.
3.37. First-time-buyers described how they wanted to move up the housing ladder, progressing from a starter home (often a flat) to having their own "back and front door". Indeed, discussions of density tended to be dominated by long-term preferences for detached properties, away from noisy neighbours. By contrast to first-time-buyers, those participants aged 55+ described a lower likelihood of moving home again, and of feeling settled in their property.
3.38. As discussed in previous sections, tensions were evident between tenure, type and location with some participants (especially at the low to middle income end) describing how they had to make trade offs. For example, some described how having stretched themselves for a mortgage they could not afford to maintain or repair their property.
3.39. Again, returning to the relationship between subjective preferences and objective reality a small number of participants talked about tenure and locational preferences in relation to lifestyle choices. Here two distinctive aspects emerged.
3.40. First, there was the perceived stigma of living in social housing, which dissuaded a small number of households from considering that tenure as an option. Linked to this some participants expressed a view that it should only be for people in 'need', and so was not for 'them'. Second, there were also a small number who opted to rent privately as it enabled them to have a property type and location that they could not afford to buy. Whilst some in this category could afford to buy a property in certain neighbourhoods, these were not regarded as places they wanted to live in:
"I could rent something far nicer than I could afford probably to buy" (Participant 35, male/25-34/lived with parents/Aberdeen City).
3.41. This trend is evident in previous research into low-cost homeownership, which highlighted a preference for a new-build shared equity property over ex-local authority properties for sale on the open market (McKee 2010).
3.42. Uniting both these examples is the way in which tenure and location are interconnected, thereby underlining the importance of not considering these dimensions in isolation. For example, were social housing to house a broader cross-section of the population as it did in the past, people's attitudes towards it may shift. Similarly, if there were stronger mechanisms to address concerns about security of tenure and conditions in the PRS it may become more attractive. Indeed, measures in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 and ongoing consultations on reforming PRS tenancies aim to address precisely these concerns about private renting. So whilst the majority of participants expressed long-term preferences to own their home, this needs to be situated within an understanding of how aspirations are shaped by the broader social, economic, cultural and political context.
Diversity between People and Places
3.43. As mentioned previously, there are significant differences in housing aspirations between older and younger people. This levelling down of expectations to own was driven primarily by challenges in securing mortgage finance. Historical housing policies of the 1980s (Right to Buy, Mortgage Interest Tax Relief at Source) were central in enabling older generations to access homeownership and accrue considerable housing wealth. In turn, our research underlines how this wealth is also being passed down the generations through financial help and subsidised accommodation to children and grandchildren. This underlines the important role of family support in enabling young people to get on the housing ladder; a finding previously identified in other research on this topic (McKee 2015; Soaita and McKee 2015; Moore 2013):
"We lived with Mark's parents for 18 months to save our deposit and we rented out my flat and then sold my flat in the latter stages to go onto the Help to Buy scheme" (Participant 27, female/25-34/homeowner/East Dunbartonshire).
"I'm sure my sons will be staying at home a long time, this is why we are paying them off to leave! Otherwise they will stay at home to save'" (Participant 50, female/45-54/social renter/Falkirk).
3.44. These inter-generational transfers of both financial help with deposits and rent-free (or susbsidised) accommodation in the parental home, highlights the way in which homeownership may increasingly be becoming the preserve of young people who can benefit from familial financial support.
3.45. Despite this, there was no evidence of inter-generational tensions or conflict. Indeed, baby-boomers expressed sympathy for younger family members and the challenges they had navigating the housing market. Although a small number commented that younger people today expected 'too much too soon', fuelled by easy credit and poor financial planning.
3.46. Similarly, the under 35s in our sample tended to blame their situation not on generational inequalities but on the wider economic context (e.g. austerity, difficult labour markets). These frustrations were most evident amongst the 'squeezed middle' - the group in our sample who tended to be living in the PRS due to their inability to access homeownership. This group were most likely to extol the virtues of homeownership, and highlight the negatives of renting. In particular they drew attention to the freedom, autonomy and financial investment that homeownership could bring.
3.47. Unlike the frustrated renters, by contrast, the older members of our sample (65+) tended to be largely happy with their housing situation. Many were outright owners who had realised their housing aspirations for homeownership.
3.48. A nuanced understanding of housing aspirations demands getting beyond inter-generational differences, and considering the diversity of experience within age cohorts. This was particularly evident amongst the younger age groups (under 35s). For example, between those who could access family support and those who could not, and those in stable, well-paid employment and those in a more economically precarious position. The under 35s who were feeling the brunt of labour market changes described having to make trade-offs between housing and other financial commitments, such as childcare costs and household bills:
"I think it's so hard for normal people, as you said before, people who don't have banks of mums and dads, to save up that deposit. Already our rent is really high, food is really high, petrol is expensive, so where do you get to save your money?" (Participant 20 female/25-34/PRS/Glasgow).
3.49. Although beyond the findings of this project, other research has drawn attention to the barriers facing vulnerable young people who cannot remain in the family home, or whose parents lack the financial resources to be able to provide assistance (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; Soaita and McKee 2015; Jones 2002). These challenges are exacerbated even further when young people themselves are on low and/or insecure incomes. The under 35s have been hit hard by a contracting welfare safety-net as a result of the UK Government's welfare reform agenda (Beatty et al 2014), moreover, the shift in higher education away from grant support to student loans in recent decades has left young people with reduced disposable income when they start their careers (Macpherson and Lidell 2013). Their parents and grandparents faced a very different set of circumstances and transitions to independent living (Jones 1995).
3.50. In terms of other elements of intra-generational differences a lack of available adapted accommodation was highlighted; an issue that affected those with disabilities across different age cohorts. Where suitable housing was deemed to exist it was often not in locations where the households necessarily wanted to live, again highlighting tensions between house type and location. Vingette 5 unpicks some of these tensions.
Vignette 5: Disabled Households Feeling Trapped - Suzanne's Story
Suzanne became disabled as the result of a complication during the birth of her second child. Consequently, she and her family had to relinquish the flat they owned and take an adapted council house. However the only suitable property immediately available was far away from where they wanted to live. The family therefore had to make the difficult choice to uproot their family from where they had established support networks:
"My daughter had a really good set up in her first year of school where we were […] but she doesn't get the support here and I find I'm more stressed. I have hospital appointments on average three times a week […] and I constantly panic here because if I get to the point where I can't drive [the] only person I've got that can give us assistance is my mum and she's now over an hour away. It is a really lovely house and it is so much more accessible and that is great but we've had to make probably quite a lot of sacrifices" (Participant 46, female/35-44/social renter/Perth and Kinross).
Suzanne argued there was a need for more adapted accomodation so families were not forced to move outwith their local area to access suitable housing.
3.51. These reluctant moves often resulted in people having to give up valuable social networks, and contributed to them feeling 'trapped' in their home because there were limited options in terms of location choice.
3.52. When considering aspirations as the dynamic relationship between subjective preferences and objective conditions, the role of geography in creating constraints and opportunities becomes only too apparent.
3.53. Housing markets were deemed more competitive and expensive in locations where labour markets were buoyant (such as Aberdeen). By contrast in areas where housing costs were typically lower (such as Renfrewshire), links between housing and labour markets worked in different ways. In these locations, the issue was one of low and insecure income, and unemployment. More qualitative research is needed to understand the inter-connections between housing and labour market opportunities in the Scottish context across divergent geographies. Yet, this also needs to be situated within a qualitative understanding of 'affordability', which recognises affordability as being inherently subjective and contested (see 3.6).
3.54. Distinct pressures were also evident in rural areas across a number of dimensions:
- More limited housing opportunities: across all tenures, but a particular issue for young people wishing to leave the parental home. This is a finding previously identified by other research, which highlights shortages of affordable housing because of properties being purchased as second homes and used for holiday lets (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; Jones 2001).
- Difficulties accessing services: this was linked to spatial proximity but also access to transport, making it more difficult to go shopping for essentials, and access public and private services (see 3.11).
- Lack of accessible transport: this limits job opportunities and access to services, especially for those who do not have their own car and were dependent on public transport. Older participants (over 65) expressed fear of becoming isolated should important bus services end, or if they were no longer able to drive due to ill-health.
- Challenging labour markets: as previous research has highlighted young people often have to out-migrate to access education and employment opportunities (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; Stockdale 2006; Jones 2001). More limited employment opportunities in rural areas mean wages can be lower, which in turn impacts on the affordability of housing for local people.
3.55. These challenges not only pose barriers for people wishing to remain in the area where they grew up, but also puts additional financial pressure on the household budgets of all members of the local community:
"It's a lovely area being next to the loch […] however being so far away from it all wears thin, and this takes a big chunk out of my money because of petrol" (Participant 62, female/35-44/PRS/Argyle and Bute).
"Every time you want a pint of milk for example, it's four miles to the nearest supermarket from here and you've got to go in the car so then you think do you really need it, can you manage without, what else can you do at the same time" (Participant 50, female/45-54/social renter/Falkirk).
3.56. A further issue evident in rural areas was the greater incidence of properties being off the main gas grid, making them cold and expensive to heat, which added to household costs. Interestingly this was perceived as part of rural living, and was not discussed as a driver to move.
Knowledge about Available Housing Options
Alternative Housing Options
3.57. It was clear from the research that there was a lack of knowledge about housing options beyond the three main tenures (owner-occupation, social renting, PRS).
3.58. Of all the Scottish Government's housing initiatives Help to Buy was the most well known, with a small number having some awareness of shared equity and the older shared ownership schemes, albeit this was often based on misunderstandings:
"Does [shared ownership] mean you are renting a room in your house?" (Participant 22, female/35-44/homeowner/South Lanarkshire).
"Yes, I've heard of [shared ownership] but I thought you had to have a council house?" (Participant 5, female/25-34/PRS/Fife).
3.59. There was limited knowledge of current opportunities for Mid-Market Rent (MMR) or Self-Build. Help to Buy was more well known, being perceived by those interested in this option as allowing them to buy a bigger home than they would ordinarily be able to afford. By contrast, intermediate tenures such as shared equity/ownership were viewed with more scepticism, with some participants expressing preference for a traditional mortgage:
"I don't know that much about (intermediate tenures) but it doesn't really appeal […] I would rather just have a standard, normal mortgage" (Participant 20 female/25-34/PRS/Glasgow).
"Well we chose (Help to Buy) because basically it allowed us to buy a bigger house because we were getting 20% off what the house value was" (Participant 27, female/25-34/home owner/East Dunbartonshire).
3.60. Indeed, the two respondents who were currently living in intermediate tenures were less than satisfied by their experience of the schemes, reporting what they perceived as hidden costs when trying to increase their share. This was because they faced additional mortgage and legal costs every time they wanted to increase their share in the property. Shared owners also pay an occupancy payment in addition to their mortgage. One participant expressed frustration with her inability to re-sell her property and move on, blaming it on the property being over-priced in the first instance (although this is not necessarily an issue restricted to low cost housing options).
3.61. This echoes previous research on low-cost homeownership initiatives in Scotland, which highlighted a lack of understanding of how the specifics of these schemes worked and that households were not necessarily well informed at the point of purchase (McKee 2010). Nonetheless, evaluations highlight that these schemes can be successful in helping buyers meet their aspirations for homeownership over the longer-term as well as delivering on policy commitments to mixed tenure communities (ODS 2011).
3.62. The number of properties across Scotland provided for mid-market rent, funded by Scottish Government, rose from 18 in 2009/10 to 1006 in 2014/15. These are rented out at below-market rents on a short assured tenancy basis. However, the lack of awareness of this option amongst participants suggests a need for more evidence based research around the targeting and promotion of these initiatives. As a forthcoming study of affordable housing need in Scotland highlights, MMR can deliver the most potential benefit in geographical locations where the gap between social and private rents is significant (Powell et al, forthcoming 2015). MMR also enables social landlords to diversify their business plans by offering differing housing products to different client groups.
3.63. As mentioned in 3.19 a strong narrative throughout all the interviews and focus groups was the need for more 'affordable housing' to be built. This was linked to a perceived 'housing crisis', fuelled in part by personal experiences of themselves or people they knew, but also from the media.
Where People Seek Advice
3.64. Information and advice about housing options, and how to access them, was commonly sought from family and friends, drawing on the benefit of their direct experience.
3.65. The second most popular mechanism was through going online to search for properties, or to find out information about particular initiatives, such as Help to Buy.
3.66. Given the inter-generational differences highlighted and the changing context in which young people in particular now have to navigate the housing market relying on older relatives for advice may not however be the most informative option. They may not be familiar, for example, with more recent intermediate tenure options, or be able to offer advice about how to uphold rights in the PRS as this young person acknowledged:
"I think I would start off by asking family and friends for previous experience [….] (but) the information available to me now might not have been available to my parents like years ago" (Participant 45 female/16-24/living with partner/Renfrewshire).
3.67. There was little mention of people seeking support from specific advice agencies, such as Citizen's Advice, Shelter or Money Advice, except for in times of crisis. When things did get difficult this independent advice and advocacy service was however highly valued. A small number also mentioned seeking advice from their local authority, for some this was because they were local authority tenants, for others it was because they saw the local authority as a gatekeeper to other agencies. This lends support to local authorities potentially providing housing options advice, beyond homelessness prevention, so that all citizens can access up-to-date and accurate information about all tenures.
3.68. Those who expressed a preference for homeownership also made reference to seeking help from mortgage brokers or financial advisors to help them assess and evaluate different mortgage deals. This underlines the importance of independent financial advice to minimise financial risk.
Email: Julie Guy