Aberdeen grapples with dodgy housing

 Anyone talking about the housing crisis runs the risk of being labelled 'London-centric', yet this put down can obscure the numerous house price hotspots around the UK.

Looking to Scotland, we find Aberdeen, where the increase in regional house prices was the largest
over a ten year period. Concern about the impact this is having on wellbeing has led Aberdeen University to hold a number of workshops. 

Scotland has a deeper commitment to social housing then much of the UK can claim. Right to Buy has been removed for new tenants, and will shortly be stopped for all tenants. However, the oil and gas boom has placed pressures on supply that these policies cannot counter. As supply in the Scottish city begins to reach saturation point, much of the population is forced into an reluctant embrace with the private rented sector. 

In this context, Aberdeen University have been holding a number of wellbeing workshops, bringing together academics, councillors, and representatives from organisations working with the community. Pictures of dodgy flats and their unhappy inhabitants have filled newspapers over the last couple years, but there is little understanding of the effects of a housing crisis on public health and wellbeing, save for 20th Century understandings of the perils of slums.

This rudimentary baseline might go some way to explain why the crisis has attracted such little outrage, even as other public goods and services have fallen under intense public scrutiny. The NHS is failing as waiting lists mount, education lags behind the rest of the world, and overcrowded trains disrupt our daily lives. Clearly all these services have improved over the years; it is just that we have updated the baseline of what we deem acceptable and expect these services to keep pace. Not so with housing.

Homes have been allowed to decrease in size even as the private rented sector crams more people into deteriorating flats. Volatile rents and house prices demand a constant engagement with the market for most people, not ideal when so much of life is now precarious. Jobs with weak contracts and low pay do not form a good foundation from which to tackle a fast paced market. What this adds up to is an embedded anxiety that weighs heavily on everyday life.

The labour market cannot be easily adjusted to promote stable and high pay, so how can households and communities can be supported in the meantime? At the Aberdeen workshop, representatives from groups that link volunteer mentors to alienated youth spoke of the renewed sense of stability and inclusion as a result of their work. Within existing communities, academics identified public spaces as a potential source of wellbeing. Avoiding the mistakes of the past, malleable green spaces that do not presuppose a certain ideal of 'community' were preferential. In lieu of sufficient private space, people should be able to claim space and have a chance to establish roots.

Linking wellbeing and housing together enforces the importance of sorting out our housing crisis. At the moment, housing adds to a growing feeling of precariousness amongst marginalised Britons. By starting to deal with volatile prices, unstable renting and by working with those being displaced, there is a chance housing could once again become a pillar of stability. 

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  • Ann Anonymous
    commented 2014-10-01 08:58:09 +0100
    My husband works in Aberdeen but we cannot afford to move here as a family due to the cost of the house prices. Our family has been fragmented for ten years now and the children only see him at weekends. In May this year Wood Group forced all their contractors to take a 10% wage cut and hinted that other companies in the area would applaud their stance and do the same…how on earth are families expected to cope with this, especially when the majority of the contractors who work in Aberdeen have families, homes and financial commitments elsewhere in the UK.