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Langstane Housing Association boss on trying to keep rents affordable and ambitions to build new Aberdeenshire homes

Helen Gauld has given an in depth interview on running the housing association which has 2,879 properties across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.

Housing association chief Helen Gauld is hopeful new properties can be built in the future. Image: Langstane Housing Association
Housing association chief Helen Gauld is hopeful new properties can be built in the future. Image: Langstane Housing Association

New social housing could be built in Aberdeenshire, with Peterhead and Fraserburgh on the radar.

Langstane Housing Association (LHA) chief executive Helen Gauld has revealed there are “ambitions” to build again.

But she has warned it is all dependant on cost as the social landlord and charity continues to work on keeping “rents affordable” for tenants.

The housing association was founded in 1977 to provide homes and services for single people who had limited opportunities to secure affordable rented homes in the private sector.

One of Langstane Housing Association’s first properties completely in Aberdeen’s Crown Street in 1981, Image:  Langstane Housing Association

It built its first properties in Aberdeen’s Crown Street and George Street in 1981.

Now it manages more than 2,879 properties throughout Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire and Moray, providing affordable rented accommodation to single people, couples and families.

In 2023-24 LHA signed up 320 new households.

It has an average of 2,700 households on its waiting lists at any given time and received more than 22,000 calls last financial year.

Rent challenges

For Helen, who joined LHA in 2015, one of the most important things is making sure rents stay affordable for tenants while continuing to meet their needs.

The former director of housing and property at Grampian Housing Association said: “We have managed to keep our costs down but they are starting to climb again.

Langstane Housing Association first Elgin homes were built at Ernest Hamilton Court in October 1996. Image: Langstane Housing Association.

“We are looking at that every single year to be as efficient as we can possibly be and keep the rent levels affordable.

“During the pandemic we did not go with a zero per cent increase because we knew we would need to catch up in future years.

“It’s not easy for our tenants. We have a lot who are possibly in the lowest paid bracket and a number of tenants who come on and off universal credit and that’s not without its challenges.”

Tenants faced a 5% increase in the latest assessment of costs.

Type of sought after housing changing

LHA currently has an office in Aberdeen’s King Street and an office in Elgin which serves Moray and North Aberdeenshire.

Since Covid, Helen has noticed a clear shift in the type of accommodation being sought after as more people choose to work from home.

It’s something LHA, who has 77 employees, are looking at in a bid to meet the needs of tenants.

Langstane Housing Association’s office in Aberdeen’s King Street opened in 2007. Image: Langstane Housing Association

She said: “For us as an organisation we’ve spent quite an amount of resources analysing what are our homes and are they the type of homes people want to live in moving forward.

“There was no issue before the pandemic when it came to letting flatted  accommodation.

“Now people are looking for houses. They want their garden space and room to work in their homes which was never a thing social housing would have provided in the past.

“What we are looking at is reconfiguring some of our homes to meet those needs moving forward.

“So what we might do is have higher quality and lower running costs for our tenants.

“But that means we might have smaller number of properties but it will give people more space.”

New Langstane Housing Association properties in the future?

The last development built by LHA was The Caley Fisheries Building in Peterhead’s Harbour Street in July 2018.

But discussions are underway about future builds in the north-east.

Helen said: “We have definitely got ambitions to build again.

“For us it’s the cost of that. We are mindful that whatever we put in play now has to be accommodated in future years.

The Caley Fisheries Building, Harbour Street, Peterhead, built by Langstane Housing Association in 2018. Image: Langstane Housing Association

“We are looking for everything to settle a little bit on the cost side of things.

“If we put a new building on the ground now we would hope it meets future requirements and we need all the planning to catch up so it doesn’t take a big chunk away from our operating costs to maintain.

“If we can achieve that it means we’ve got more money to spend on our existing homes and bring them up to the modern day standards.”

Aberdeenshire the likely location

Helen revealed Fraserburgh and Peterhead may be two of the areas they look to build.

She said: “We work with local authorities to look at their housing demands.

LHA completed its first properties in Inverurie at Polinar Place in December 1984. Image: Langstane Housing Association

“At this moment in time it would be Aberdeenshire but we would need to be very specific about where.

“I know Fraserburgh and Peterhead are not without their challenges. Although we are hoping the economic situation improves in those areas.”

How could it be funded?

With regards the funding for any new builds Helen said much would depend on Scottish Government’s requirements for properties to meet its net zero requirements.

She said: “Any new build programme would be funded using a mix of Housing Association Grant, private financing, and reserves.

“However, much will depend on the Scottish Government’s requirements especially in relation to net zero as we may, as is the case for most social housing providers, have to divert significant funds to meeting that standard.

“We have responded to consultation asking that we be given the ability to meet the required standards without having to meet interim targets.

“This is to avoid putting in measures that may have to be removed further down the line.”

Pressure on public services concerns

One thing Helen would like to see is better access to public services for those who need it.

She said: “Another matter that keeps me awake at night is the pressure on local public services.

“More and more we see gaps in people’s ability to access services and the most vulnerable members of our communities are the hardest hit.

“Therefore it is important we work collectively as we can achieve more together.

“In 2023-24, we supported 204 tenants through our registered housing support service.

“This service is fully funded by Langstane to assist those who need our help to enable them to continue living independently.”

Finances need to remain healthy

Looking forward Helen remains positive but knows every housing association is in the same situation when it comes to funding.

Income for LHA was £16.4 million for the year ending March 31 2023, slightly down from £16.6m in 2022.

However, costs did rise from £12.3m in 2022 to £13.2m last year.

She said: “Our finances are looking fine. We’ve done a lot of work to ensure we are in a good position.

“It’s about ensuring that can be sustained.

“Any housing association is in the same bracket. We don’t have unlimited funds we can use.

“We’ve got loan covenants we need to meet so we do have to make profit on an annual basis to meet agreements.

“On the whole our finances are looking very positive but we do need to ensure moving forward we are still in that unique position.

“Our 2024-29 business plan has a consistent mission of providing homes and services that make a positive different to people’s lives.

“Our vision for the next five years is to empower our people, our customers, and our communities to be the best they can be.

“To ensure we deliver on our mission and vision, we are focusing on five strands of our business – our customers, our homes, our people, our organisation, and our communities.”