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Aberdeen’s £7m council housing bid to help 1,000 Ukrainian refugees taken in since Russian invasion

Aberdeen has taken in about 1,000 Ukrainian refugees - and is preparing to usher more to safety.
Aberdeen has taken in about 1,000 Ukrainian refugees - and is preparing to usher more to safety.

More than £7 million could be spent upgrading empty Aberdeen council homes to make them fit for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

The city is currently supporting around 1,000 people displaced by the war.

And more Ukrainian refugees are expected to follow as the devastation continues.

But so far, most have been temporarily placed in hotels, with only a small number in council housing or with private hosts.

Council chiefs have now begun working with the Scottish Government to find the refugees permanent accommodation in the Granite City.

Last week, Ukraine children living in Aberdeen were treated to a day out, including a visit to Codonas amusement park.

The youngsters got a well-deserved treat. Picture by Chris Sumner / Aberdeen Journals

Lord Provost David Cameron said it was a “privilege” to welcome them to Aberdeen.

“We cannot imagine what they have been through to get here,” he said.

Hundreds of Aberdeen council homes sit empty as Ukrainian families remain in hotels

Hundreds of local authority properties sit empty in Aberdeen, with The P&J reporting the unused resources were costing the taxpayer more than £250,000 a month at the start of the year.

Young children stand with signs displaying Peace for Ukraine during a protest in Aberdeen in March. Picture by Scott Baxter

At that time, around one in every 20 of the city’s 22,000 council homes was sitting empty.

That was while around 5,250 people remained on waiting lists.

But city officials have launched talks with the Scottish Government seeking £7.2m to fund a project to bring 516 homes back on to the letting market.

These will be offered to Aberdeen’s new Ukrainian population.

Marischal College was lit up in blue and yellow to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Picture by Paul Glendell

Councillors discussed the funding bid at the finance committee meeting on Wednesday, with Michael Kusznir of the Conservatives referencing his own heritage as the grandson of a Ukrainian who fled the country during the Second World War.

An amendment by Labour councillor Ross Grant, asking for a report to be prepared ensuring critical services are being supplied to the refugees in the city, was adopted into the main motion by the SNP/Lib Dem administration.

However, a final decision was deferred until the full council meets on August 24.

What sort of work is needed before empty Aberdeen council housing can be called a home?

Initial meetings have already been held with council and government officials.

A decision on Aberdeen’s multi-million-pound bid is expected by the end of the month or in early September.

Funding would bring the homes up to the Scottish standards on housing quality and energy efficiency.

Improvements could include new bathrooms, kitchens, central heating systems and rewiring.

Women and Mothers of Ukraine protesting the war in April. Picture by Lauren Taylor.

And the money could be used to fix up other properties remaining empty due to larger problems such as dry rot, the presence of asbestos and even fire damage.

In January, there were more than 100 former council homes, bought under the right to buy, bought back by the local authority also in need of improvement.

These too could be upgraded to make new homes for displaced Ukrainians.

Sudden population increase placing pressure on Aberdeen schools

Meanwhile, pressure is also being felt on the city’s schools.

There are more than 200 school-aged Ukrainian refugees in Aberdeen.

The people of Ukraine have been made to feel at home in Aberdeen. Supplied by Chris Sumner/DCT Media Date; 26/02/2022

Council resources director Steve Whyte told councillors: “The education service is managing a substantial increase in children who have arrived in the city.

“This has been unexpected and is driven by two factors, the post-Covid increase of students from other countries to the two universities, who are bringing their families with them.

“It is expected to continue through the forthcoming and future
admission cycles.”

What about Aberdeen residents needing council homes?

Earlier this year, we reported that the council is planning a “mass overhaul” of its housing system.

This came after it emerged nearly 60% of all those offered council homes are turning them down – mainly because tenants don’t like what they are being offered.

A cross-party working group was established to tackle the issue.

And they reckon the best way to resolve it is by letting people choose where and how they would like to live.

A move to choice-based letting (CBL) – similar to Aberdeenshire, Angus and Edinburgh – is intended to slash the length properties sit empty.

Officials hope the new system can be in place this year, allowing them to advertise available properties online for prospective occupants to bid on.

Potential tenants refusing the offer of a property is a root cause of Aberdeen’s multi-million-pound problem, and one the shift to CBL is hoped to help with.