Highland’s potential homeless crisis could be alleviated by the use of ready-assembled modular pods, according to the council’s SNP opposition group.
The group, led by Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith, is pressing the local authority to look seriously at off-the-shelf pods to cope with the predicted increase in evictions of tenants from social and private housing due to the impact of Covid-19 on earnings and jobs.
As of June this year, the number of households presenting to the council as homeless is 858, with 409 of those in Inverness.
Ms Smith, who also sits on the board of Albyn Housing, says off-the-shelf pods can be bought for around £40,000 for a two bedroom unit, and can be built up in a modular fashion to meet people’s needs.
“A typical Albyn unit comes in at around £150,000 to build, not including the land.
“Effectively the council, and other social housing providers could double their output and tackle homelessness quickly and efficiently.
“The council already has plenty of land all over the Highlands, and is used to putting in infrastructure.”
Ms Smith, who chairs the north planning committee, said planning consents should also be expedited to allow rapid movement on the project.
Scottish Government rules brought in this April in response to the pandemic mean that up to at least the end of September, landlords must give tenants at least six months’ notice before starting legal proceedings to evict, in most circumstances.
Modular housing could be available in six months, Ms Smith said.
Black Isle councillor Craig Fraser said he was also concerned about homelessness stemming from mortgages being foreclosed on families struggling under the impact of Covid.
He said: “If this happens the homing burden will fall on the council.”
The SNP group will raise a motion at next week’s full council meeting looking for cross party support to ask the local authority to identify suitable land sites for the placement of high quality pods and expedite planning consents.
Housing and property committee chairman councillor Ben Thompson said he had a lot of sympathy with the SNP group’s motion.
“While I agree with it in spirit, I think two things need to happen first.
“First, we need to do everything we can to keep people in their houses, and secondly support them to stay there.
“There is help from the Scottish Government for both tenants and those paying mortages.
“In Highland we have areas of strong growth, and areas of population decline.
“There is housing pressure in Inverness, but not in Wick, so it’s not a simple picture.
“The issue is not so much about building houses rapidly, which can already happen using traditional models, but about getting the right land and infrastructure in place to cope with families’ needs, including things like new schools.
“But I’m all for building better houses that are cheaper and a good investment.”
Mr Thompson said the economic fall out from Covid-19 is uncertain and depends on a wide range of factors.
“It will depend on the length of the virus, whether we have a vaccine, what the tourism industry looks like next year because of the impact on people who live in tied housing with hotels.
“We’ve seen up to 20 people made homeless when one hotel closed.”
Chairman of the council’s recovery board Alasdair Christie said the problems facing the Highlands are seismic.
“Governments need to recognise the Highlands are different from other areas and there should be a focus on providing good, low cost housing and jobs for people in the Highlands.”