The Welsh dream: That the people of Wales should own their own homes

Neil McEvoy AM

Neil McEvoy

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.

The Labour Minister for Finance said recently in the Senedd that Bedroom Tax was not a matter devolved to Wales. That didn’t’ stop Scotland ending Bedroom Tax evictions.

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.

Solutions

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.

Now it seems focused on sending us the things it doesn’t want; be that prisonersradioactive mud, or even disadvantaged people from outside Wales.

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.

Independence

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.

Welsh dream

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.

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27 Comments

  1. A very inspirational speech Neil. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  2. Capitalist and Welshnash

    ‘If the carrot approach fails, the stick of compulsory purchase could be used.’

    No, interfering too much in the private sector infringes upon individual civil liberties, and it is wrong.

    A couple of the above steps to tack homelessness, yes. But one must remember the words of George Osbourne which are perhaps the words which won the 2010 election: ‘We want to get you out of tax, and into your own home.’

    Yes, we must take steps to solving Cardiff’s, and Wales’, homelessness issue. But owning a home is not a right, it is something you earn. That is what makes it so valuable.

    • Coming on here spouting quotes from George Osborne is a bit rich ! He may have said a lot of agreeable things but his actions spoke much louder. He looked after his rich friends ahead of all else. Fine giving us plebs higher annual allowances on ISA’s, some people didn’t even earn enough to make a minimum investment let alone max out on these allowances, and improving tax bands was a positive gesture but his unwillingness to make the seriously wealthy, high income element in society carry a bigger share of the burden of austerity undermines any integrity the man ever had. His petulant behaviour since being put out of office also speaks volumes. Spoilt brat.

      • Capitalist and Welshnash

        I can fully respect your disagreement; exempli gratia, I disagree with the bedroom tax. But your first sentence quite bewilders me.

        ‘Coming on here spouting quotes from George Osborne is a bit rich !’

        Surely we want a Cymru which is political mature enough to sustain national newspapers in which the left and right are expressed in equal measure without a bias towards either socialism nor capitalism?

        So for you to explicit refer to expressing pro-capital opinions ‘here’ as being a ‘a bit rich’ is a subtle attempt to stifle any emergence of a pro-Wales-focused sphere in which economically liberal opinions are not shouted down by some uncivilised mob unable to grasp the freedom of expression required within any mature democracy. A mature democracy celebrates the left and the right. Indeed, the proliferation of socialism for so long within the Welsh nationalist movement, is the single gravest threat to our country in its history.

        • Wrong again ! I spent my entire working life in business, the last 20+ years self employed serving various manufacturing businesses. I know from that experience that there is a gulf between ” competitive free enterprise” and the large scale corporate organisations that Osborne and his ilk favour. Those guys have been bending and twisting rule books all their bloody lives setting out to ensure anti-competitive obstacles get enshrined in laws, regulations, procurement procedures etc etc.

          If that’s your chosen form of capitalism then yes I am opposed to your “economic liberalism” but really you should be a touch more honest and dispense with the much mis-used “liberalism” and use something that better reflects the cronyism and rigging that goes on to ensure that competition is stifled.

          As for socialism much the same criticism applies. Despite all sorts of elegant theories being pumped out to make the thing palatable it is amply evident that its major practitioners in power prefer to deal with “organisations of scale” whether they are public sector or large scale corporates.

          Ditch the old left – right bollocks as it’s a big diversion. The real oppression comes from abuse of power by those who can only think in terms of big, often transnational organisations and derive comfort ( and rewards) from dealing with them.

  3. Glenn Swingler

    140,000 homes have been sold in Wales due to right to buy

  4. I wonder why, in a week when Mr McEvoy has asked for the Plaid Cymru whip to be restored to him, he has reiterated his ideas regarding right-to-buy. Wasn’t his voicing of this opinion the “straw that broke the camel’s back” which led to his suspension from the Plaid group?

    Furthermore, if restrictions are placed on the resale of properties bought under right-to-buy then surely their desirability – and sale price – will be severely reduced. Which, I guess would lead to the council buying them back at which point one has to ask “what was the point in the first place?” And whic mortgage lenders would provide funding for housing with limited resale value? Given that the discount is a maximum of £8000 who would be interested in buying such a financially hamstrung property in the first place?

    Currently two things tend to happen when council houses, bought under right-to-buy, are sold on by their original purchasers. In the nicer areas they are sold on to owner occupiers and the neighbourhood is further gentrified. In the rougher areas the property is bought by a private sector landlord and let at a rent higher than that which the council will charge. One of my family members, newly divorced with two children, is renting in Tremorfa in Cardiff. She pays £750 per month while her neighbours in council houses pay under £500 per month. Her ex-partner was the breadwinner and is unwilling to make up the shortfall so she cannot afford the rent any longer so she will be evicted, with her two very young children, who are in infant school. She has never been on the council housing list before but has recently applied only to be told that there is a 40 year wait in Splott/Tremorfa. So she, Cardiff born and bred, faces moving into a hostel. Right-to-buy has contributed to her sorry situation and Mr McEvoy’s harebrained scheme would not help her in the slightest

    • Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real open discussion about all of this – using really accurate data and information. A statement of some simple facts would be nice as well. How many people own homes, how many rent – rate of evictions. How many are in Council accomodation, how many have signed up to right to buy, how many have defaulted. Social housing – the names of the providers, the people involved and how they operate and lots of relevent stats and informatiuon about them – demographics everything (everything out in the open for everyone to see).

      There is a lot of discussion around housing, but not nearly enough really basic information, that you don’t have to pull your teeth out to find, if it exists at all. This vacuum of information leads to all sorts of assumptions – lets have information, lots of it. Only then will most people be able to make informed decisions on what is and isn’t right or wrong.

    • “if restrictions are placed on the resale of properties bought under right-to-buy then surely their desirability – and sale price – will be severely reduced.”

      (The caveat for what follows is that replacement council houses are built from the proceeds of the initial sale)

      If a council house tenant wants a home and to obtain security for their family they might think restrictions are acceptable. The alternative is as you pointed out is possible future loss of security.
      If a council house tenant wants a home, security for their family and an investment in property then they might wish to buy a privately owned property that’s up for sale.
      Of course all things being equal no-one should be surprised that the second option is the more expensive one.

      What is your rationale for saying that if a council tenant can’t afford the second option they should therefore not be allowed the first? (remember to apply the caveat above)

      • Your rather labyrinthine reply takes some understanding! Given that the discount is a maximum of £8000 why would anyone buy a home that would have stringent conditions regarding its resale or letting out? Its value would be greatly diminished. It would be a bad investment. Ghettos of unsaleable and unlettable homes would then develop which, under McEvoy’s harebrained plan the council would then buy back at a greatly diminished price, creating assets worth less than they were when initially sold under right-to-buy.

        Dealing with the issue of building homes with the proceeds of right-to-buy I will use Tremorfa as an example. A house here -75 square metres – sells on the open market for £120,000. So after the discount the council receives £112,000. The cost of land to build one house in Tremorfa is around £40,000. The cost of building a house to 80 year standards – which the council must apply (and excluding VAT) – will be around £125 per square metre. 125×75 is around £93000. Add the land cost – £133,000. So the council has made a loss of £21,000.

        Feel free to question my figures or analysis. What Mr McEvoy has failed to address is my question regarding his request to have the Plaid Whip restored to him. Why did he request this restoration on Tuesday and then publish this highly provocative piece on Friday. Is he stupid, narcissistic or just “impossible to work with”?

        Answers please Mr McEvoy!

        • Sorry my comment made you feel like you were struggling in a maze. I’ll try to put my points across more clearly.
          The issue for me here is housing in Cymru and the sale of council houses. Whether Mr McEvoy has or hasn’t got the Plaid whip is irrelevant to me.

          Firstly the detail of discounts and restrictions are not fixed for eternity. Either the Senedd can tailor them to address needs and circumstances or it can insist that it gets the powers off Westminster to do so. If Westminster refuses to issue them then that is yet another reason for an independent Cymru to bring to the attention of our electorate.

          I’m not in a position to debate the figures you provide. However if we accept that a replacement council house costs a council £21,000. What does that £21,000 get the council. Here are a few things I can think of but I’m sure there are more..

          provision of a council house for a local family on the waiting list
          a family that is not paying a more expensive rent with less secure tenancy to a private landlord.
          the opportunity to contract a small local building firm and so contribute to its workers job security and income.
          the opportunity to insist that a building with a lower carbon footprint than a private developer might is built.
          the opportunity to insist that the home layout encourages a more cohesive and healthier family unit (eg the location of the kitchen in a home can contribute to a better diet and so reducing costs to CIG ).

          That £21,000 can be money very well spent.

  5. Neil is right we need to talk housing policy. Let’s have some horror expressed at councils like Cardiff failing to meet their affordable housing targets. Let’s stop councils letting developers avoid providing their 30 or 40% of affordable housing. In wealthy Penarth a controversial development of 30 luxury flats should include 12 affordable homes but the VoG council propose to take just £300k in lieu (106 agreement) how many homes would that provide? They prefer the income for spending. Until this massive loophole is plugged few affordable homes will be built in Wales. This is the real scandal. At the same time Cardiff council claim they can find £ms for a new stadium while not bothering to find ways or demand funding to build councils housing.

  6. When an existing council tenant buys their council property, the council should purchase a similar sized property or build a new property to replace the housing stock for those on the waiting list.
    I understand that new house building is exempt from VAT, so should residential property repairs also be removed from VAT.

    Council tax is not an effective way of raising revenue as it does not take different levels of income (from different sources) into account. The councils have no room to raise extra revenue as raising this tax falls heaviest on those with the lowest income. I have suggested replacing council tax and business rates with a system of local income tax and local corporation tax.

    As for the UK dumping their problems (radioactive mud, prisoners) on Wales: Carwyn Jones and the Welsh government should say NO !
    Then if the UK government doesn’t listen – we must make sure everyone knows…. That’s why we need an independent Wales !

  7. Neil McEvoy

    I talk about the right to a home, not a right to own a home. Nobody has ever told me the problem with selling a council property, as long as the stock is replaced. I really would like to know what is wrong with that.

    • Neil, much of the adverse response to your comments comes from people who haven’t fully grasped ( or even read through ) what you are talking about. There’s a cluster of bad buggers out there who will argue black is white rather than engage in a sane discussion of this or indeed any other problem. Some of these people are wedded to a political party no matter what kind of drivel it spouts, or how inactive it is in government despite engaging in some big talk. Others have got it in for you on a more personal level but choose to vent their hostility by seeking out contrary positions just so they can oppose ( sad use of energy, but there again it exercises their brains ! ). I can’t say that I agree with you on all issues but I commend you for raising them. Sadly too many of your colleagues appear to lack a similar inquisitive and energetic approach and bring shame on Y Cynulliad.

    • So are you talking about the right to buy and suggesting there should be no right to buy a council property, but it should be fine to sell one? I was almost on your side here to some extent, but now I’m confused by the message.

    • Capitalist and Welshnash

      I see nothing wrong with selling council homes, after say, a set period of 10 years or such. As for replacing them, I am what you might call a Green conservative and am more cautious as i think about Civil Liberties in relation to government interference. There are ways to strike a middle road but must balance indivilualism too.

  8. Neil McEvoy

    Re: confusion. I was referring to the constitution. The right should be to a home. It is up to the individual & circumstances what suits. E.g. Ownership/rent. The rest stands as clear I would hope. Thanks

  9. Eos Pengwern

    This chap actually talks some sense, and isn’t afraid to point out the massive hypocrisy of Welsh Labour. No wonder Plaid Cymru couldn’t cope with him.

  10. I meet up with this young man Neil McEvoy some years ago & I said to him then & to other’s who surrounded him that he has a right to speak on the injustice on that which he lives within & understands in Wales today in 2002 ! Poverty has few friends or allies to expose the reality of such evil .No matter the promises & demands of politicians in Welsh Assembly today. Fact- One in every 3 Welsh citizens survive in poverty.today is that OK ? Not for Neil.! I understand that Neil is considered to be a loose cannon or some kind of revolutionary maverick . Surely we in Wales today are prepared & willing to hearken those who cannot express or listen in silent comfort to the ambitions of a man who despises poverty. Who may have an idea ! Or is Wales now more interested in promoting & protecting those who desire a cloak of their own personal warmth to wear & parade among the English 7 who wear & display their regal robes of ermine furs & illustrious jewels in Windsor Castle ?

  11. Tame Frontiersman

    Housing provision gets mired in left v right ideological debates. Practical solutions are needed and Mr McEvoy suggests some here (see also Rhisiart ap Siencyn, Nation Cymru Opinion 25.9.17).
    The factors influencing property and land prices and new provision of homes are complex indeed and well intentioned interventions may lead to unintended consequences. Independent academic study of the housing provision problem in Wales which doesn’t carry ideological baggage would be helpful.

  12. Neil McEvoy

    Just a reply to PUN. Personal insults don’t belong in this forum. Thanks.

    • So what is the reason for you submitting this piece just three days after you requested that the Plaid whip be restored to you? Or will we have to wait for your next press conference to find out? On your latest video you identify yourself as “Independent Plaid”. What does that mean? You’ve been Labour, Plaid Cymru, Cardiff Plaid, Independent and now Independent Plaid. What next? Your right-to-buy zealotry could mean that the Tories would be a natural home for you. But would they want you? You could join your old mate Sarul Islam in UKIP – they favour hanging sex offenders too! I’m sure they would welcome you with open arms. Or you could start your own party…

      Any feedback to my points regarding your right-to-buy policy would be very welcome too.

  13. Neil McEvoy

    PUN, I have the courage to use my name: you don’t. I can guess who you are though.

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