I believe in a sovereign Wales. I believe Wales should have a constitution and I believe that in that constitution the right to a home should be enshrined.
When I walk around our capital City, I see that many of our citizens are denied this right. Moreover, far too many people are also denied a secure home and are reduced to rent dependency, with overbearing landlords in both the private and public sector.
This power imbalance has the knock-on effect of reducing the confidence of the whole nation as a collective.
Labour’s recent focus only on the right to buy issue is a distraction, because last year, only 251 council houses were sold with the right to buy.
Their breast-beating about the abolition of the right to buy is a PR stunt to divert attention from their inertia on Wales’ housing crisis.
The real issue is that 90,000 people are on housing waiting lists all over Wales, without any real prospect of finding housing within a reasonable amount of time.
In Cardiff alone at the end of 2016, there were 8,300 households waiting for social housing; yet between 2012 and 2016 the Labour council didn’t build a single council house.
There is also a body of homeless people who have fallen off the lists for various reasons.
Successive Labour Governments have unspectacularly failed the people of Wales in relation to housing; only 2,400 affordable homes were built in Wales in 2015/16.
The Bedroom tax looms large in Wales. Despite promises, I know from the experience of attending court hearings that people are being thrown out on the street due to poverty.
It’s now 2017 and the business as usual, fiddling at the margins approach is not acceptable. We need a real debate on housing and so I want to put some ideas out there and I’m very keen to hear the ideas of others.
For a start, we should ensure local people are the absolute priority for housing lists. It used to be that the UK Government’s focus was on taking the things from Wales that it wanted.
Social housing stock in Wales should firstly be used to cater for local demand.
Secondly, the housing provided must really be affordable and not just said to be affordable. Better planning laws could force building companies to build a higher proportion of genuinely affordable housing.
Lack of funding is often claimed to be the reason social housing isn’t built. But in the most ambitious sense, local government should seek permission of the UK Minister responsible in order to invest pension funds to create new housing stock.
In theory, we could see the biggest expansion of zero carbon rental housing in Welsh history. The business plans would need to be tight and profitable.
I really don’t see much of a downside, because the asset would accrue value and there is a hungry market of people waiting to be housed, feeding a good level of revenue into the coffers for the pension dividends.
Simply, housing is one of the best investments there is and pension funds will put their money into it.
At the other end of the scale, we could take inspiration from small-scale cooperatives in other parts of the world and enable local communities to physically build their own homes to the highest specifications needed. Why not?
The need to bring back small and medium house builders has been identified. A handful of massive developers now completely dominate the housing sector, leading to bad Local Development Plans, where green fields are destroyed and local culture is ignored.
An industry where smaller, local house builders build housing based on local need and local characteristics is surely a good thing. But the high cost of land and the complexity of Labour’s planning laws prevent this.
Moving on, in 2015, there were 26,528 long-term empty private sector dwellings in Wales. Add this to the vacant properties in the public sector and we have a sizeable amount of homes that could be quickly created. There are plenty of red field sites which could also be developed for housing.
Private landlords could be offered loans to renovate their stock, which could be paid back through the rent of their tenants. All properties could be covered by local authority agreements.
If the carrot approach fails, the stick of compulsory purchase could be used. Local authorities need to get much more proactive when it comes to bringing empty properties back into use.
In addition, local Councils should be using bespoke house design to fill the many small areas of wasteland. This would not only house families, but it would be of benefit to the local environment.
Finally, as a person brought up in a council house on the Fairwater estate in Cardiff, I strongly believe that working people should be given the opportunity to buy their rented property when they can afford it. There are several reasons for this.
In the first instance, in the cause of equality and social justice, it is wrong to permanently seek to keep people in the rental sector. This only perpetuates inequality.
I also believe in liberty and real independence. The people of Wales have a right to be free of private property owners, councils or housing associations lording it over them.
I know a family now facing eviction after paying rent for 50 years. When the father died, the tenancy went to the mother and we are now told that the tenancy cannot be passed on again. This is simply not acceptable.
I also know of too many examples of interference in the political process, whether that be landlords insisting certain party colours (red) go up in the window, or council officials removing (plaid) boards from properties.
People have often felt intimidated and too worried to complain. It is logical to say that a free and independent person, will lead to a free and independent Wales.
In concluding, I want to slay some lazy attacks.
I have never suggested selling off Council houses on the cheap. However, it is only fair that some discount be made available for somebody who has paid rent for decades.
In addition, a ceiling could be put on the price of any resale to stop blatant profiteering on any discounted property.
Furthermore, any properties sold could be prevented from being rented out in the future and we could give Councils the right to buy back former social housing if it goes up for sale.
The goal of the policy is to allow home ownership and to build more social housing.
I am also not suggesting reducing stock; far from it. Selling Council houses should come with the caveat that the money must be used to build new stock.
A £160,000 sale on a standard 3 bedroom property could allow 4 properties to be added to the Council stock.
Let me explain: as a former Deputy Leader of Cardiff Council, I know the power of negotiation that a local authority has.
Lenders would be queuing up to do business with councils. In essence, Councils would take out mortgages with large deposits on properties from the private sector.
The rent could pay the mortgages off and the Council would then acquire a tripling of unit for every sale if such a scheme were adopted.
My focus is on legislation that will help people buy a home, not taking options away.
I’ve heard people argue that the UK has an obsession with home ownership. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It is part of Welsh culture.
And if we were ever to talk about a Welsh dream, then home ownership would surely be part of it.
We need a planning system geared towards home ownership and building affordable housing. The alternative is to continue to let our people live inferior qualities of life due to the housing crisis.
Housing is too important not to talk about.