Walking home last night in the sub-zero chill, my fingertips were melded to my phone.
Fingerless gloves are no good for cold snaps – noted.
But as I complained of my poor, numb fingertips to my mother, she summoned all the sternness of a good Scottish mammy to remind me that “at least you’ve got a nice warm home to go to”.
Well played, mum. But of course, she’s right.
I’m extremely lucky that not only do I have a roof over my head, but that that roof is mine, especially in a time where Dundee’s registered homeless population has just passed the 300 mark.
For a long time, my life was set up in a way where the mere concept of a mortgage felt unattainable, as it does for most of my generation.
So the fact I moved into my own place in 2022 is a small miracle all on its own.
Before that, I was renting. And although my rented flat wasn’t cheap, at £700 per month split between us, it was just about doable for two students working part-time and living frugally.
And now, a lightning-fast two years later, Dundee has seen rent rates soar to an average of £900 a month.
Partly, this is down to the cost-of-living crisis; but mainly, it’s an issue of supply and demand.
Simply put, there’s too many people wanting a place to stay, and not enough places to put them in.
Dundee has over 200 second homes
Students coming to Dundee’s universities are fighting tooth and nail for flats, which not only risks putting prospective students off, it allows unscrupulous letting agents to exploit young people’s desperation and limited means, and get away with providing sub-standard accommodation.
Young professionals and families – people I know – attempting to move to the city are being asked for two, three, even four months’ rent on top of a deposit in order to secure distinctly average flats or houses.
People simply do not have that kind of money lying around. And so they lose out on homes which, based on rent rates alone, they could afford.
And after starting a mortgage in 2022 based on a pretty solid footing, I find myself fearing the day where I have to re-fix it in today’s economic climate. The fact is, I couldn’t afford to rent my own flat today.
Meanwhile those on the list for council housing in the city are waiting for more than half a year on average to be adequately housed.
Yet as of November 2023, there were 204 second homes in Dundee.
That’s 204 homes which someone owns, but no one lives in – the definition of wasted space, in a city where space is gold dust.
Two-thirds of Dundee’s registered homeless population could theoretically be housed in the city’s spare homes.
Which is why the city council’s move to double the council tax charges on second homes is welcome and, in fact, overdue.
It’s hoped the proposals, which will go before a committee next week, will motivate languishing second-home owners to either sell up or rent out to the baying masses.
It’ll bring Dundee in line with Fife and Perth and Kinross Councils. So unless we want to become a city of rich tenants renting from absentee landlords, the decision is a no brainer.
Poor little landlords rightly penalised
Speaking of landlords, if given the green light, the policy will no doubt be the cause of many a landlord’s dismay, if they’re not providing the kind of long-term lets that allow people to make a home.
But it’s hard to feel sorry for them.
There’s very few circumstances where an unused or underused second home is justified, from where I’m standing.
In a world where so many will never be able to dream of owning a home to live in, never mind another one to profit off, there’s no ethical leg to stand on for landlords who buy up swathes of the city when the markets are low, then exploit – for profit – the basic human need for shelter.
It’s only right that they should pay through the nose on their council tax for an empty or Airbnb-ified flat, if they insist on pricing renters out of their lets.
There’s no way to be an ethical landlord, that’s for sure.
But those who own second homes and do not make them habitable and open to use are significantly more unethical than their counterparts.
So fair play to Dundee City Council for this surprisingly sensible proposal.
Indeed, as someone who quite often uses this column to fire into DCC, I’m pleased to for once be able to give credit where credit is due.
This proposal is the first idea that they’ve had in a while which shows that the local authority may actually be listening to what the residents of the city want – finally.
Now, the question remains – what are you going to do with all that extra tax money, Mr Alexander?