Dumbarton educated Patrick Harvie, of the Green Party.

By Bill Heaney

“It is hard to see now what is going to prevent a tidal wave of evictions sweeping people into homelessness services which were barely coping before the pandemic,” according to Shelter.

Dumbarton-educated Patrick Harvie, of the Green Party, stood up for tenants struggling to pay rent and homeless people in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

He asked Nicola Sturgeon: “What specific actions will the First Minister take now to protect tenants from building up enormous debt burdens, to ensure that arrears due to the crisis cannot be used to evict people, and to prevent the predicted new wave of homelessness after the temporary measures end?”

The FM replied: “Not supporting particular amendments to a bill does not equate to a lack of determination to protect tenants. Our objection to the particular amendments was that we thought that they were flawed.

“In some cases, they were unnecessary, but in other cases they would have had serious negative unintended consequences. It does not mean that we are not determined to take actions to protect tenants.”

She added: “On the call for a blanket rent freeze for two years and discounting of all rent arrears whether or not they accrue because of the crisis, I note that it was social landlords who raised concerns about that.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said that it would undermine and threaten the well-being of tenants … not benefit them.”

The Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations described the proposals as potentially “calamitous”.

Patrick Harvie said: “I will never claim that Green proposals are the only way in which it is possible to achieve something, but if they are not the way, we need to hear from the Scottish Government what the alternative is.

“At the moment, it is clear that even some landlords who can access the Government’s landlord hardship fund are saying that their tenants are increasing their rent arrears and that, after the six-month protection is over, they will evict people on the ground of arrears and then hike the rents for their next tenants in order to pay back the loan that they have taken out. We do not yet have the measures in place to ensure a socially just outcome.

Before we went into the lockdown, at least 10,000 people were stuck in temporary accommodation in Scotland and hundreds were sleeping rough.

“There has been an enormous effort by councils, the third sector and social enterprises to get people housed, get those who were sleeping rough into accommodation and move families out of insecure bed-and-breakfast accommodation and into self-contained accommodation.

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Local housing at Bellsmyre and Renton. Pictures by Craig Jump

“I pay tribute to everybody who has been involved in that extraordinary effort. It is another demonstration of the change that we can deliver when we put our minds to it.

“However, it is critical that, when the lockdown is lifted, we do not go back to the status quo but build back the better Scotland that we want to see. The decisions that we make now will determine whether we achieve that fairer, greener, more equal Scotland or end up making matters worse.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end homelessness. Can the First Minister give us a guarantee that no one will be put back on the streets or into unsuitable accommodation when the restrictions are lifted?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yes, I absolutely want to make sure that, where we have made progress because of the crisis on things that we had unfortunately not made sufficient progress on previously, we do not go back the way.

“Patrick Harvie talked about homelessness and rough sleeping and he is 100 per cent right about that, but there are many other examples, such as the roll-out of technology in the health service, where, out of a crisis, we have done things that had proven difficult, and we have to continue that progress and not regress.

In many other ways, we will have to take action to deal with the impacts of the crisis and try to change how we do things. We have just alluded to some of the questions and considerations around the social care model in Scotland.

All that I would say to Patrick Harvie is that the crisis has impacted on literally every aspect of life, the economy and society, and we are going to have to methodically, systematically and carefully work our way through how we fix the impacts where they have done damage, and where we will change how we do things in the future.

I do not have all the answers right now, and members would be a bit miffed if I stood here and tried to give all the answers right now. At the outset of the crisis, we put in place protection against eviction, and as we move into a different phase we will have to consider what protections are appropriate for the longer term and what bigger changes we want to happen. Everybody in the chamber has a part to play in that, as has the entirety of the Scottish population.

I would never have wished the circumstances in which we are having these discussions, but it is undoubtedly the case that they give us an opportunity to change things for the better. That is something that I am determined to try and do. As I say, everybody has a contribution to make to that and a part to play in it.”

Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration, has refused to comment on housing or any other function of West Dunbartonshire Council.

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