Family of four facing homelessness within days
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A family of four who have just under a week to find a home have opened up on the reality facing some families in Wales.
Nicola and Mark Whealan have lived on Gilwern Place in Llanishen for 20 years, but got into arrears with their mortgage before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The couple eventually had to sell the property where they currently live with their two daughters, one of whom has a severe learning disability.
However, they said that seven months on from having told the council that they will require social housing – and just hours away from when they were originally supposed to vacate the house – they were told nothing suitable had been found.
Nicola and Mark were offered temporary emergency accommodation at the Gasworks site in Grangetown, but the couple refused this, saying that it was not the kind of place they wanted to take their disabled daughter, Jade.
The family were previously offered a council home in June which they said would be unsuitable for Jade due to its location.
“It broke me to pieces,” said Nicola, 46. “The thought of being homeless with a disabled adult. It was unbelievable. What do you do?”
Nicola said Jade sometimes has issues sleeping and can sometimes be screaming through the night.
She added: “It is not fair to her and it is not fair to the others who live there. Jade is a very loud individual.”
Mark, 47, said: “It is okay [for the council to say] to go here and go there, but they don’t have to deal with it do they?
“Sometimes Jade wakes up in the mornings, she is wide awake 2am, 3am, 4am and slamming doors and doing stuff in the house.”
The couple also said they would have had to part ways with their three dogs, Cally, Cruise and Milo if they took the council’s offer of moving into one of the modular units in Grangetown.
This would technically only have needed to be a temporary measure, as the dogs could have returned to them once they found a property that allowed dogs, but they explained the issue wasn’t so straight forward.
Nicola said: “It is just not suitable for Jade’s needs and to get rid of the dogs, if it had to come to it yes we would, but you cannot get rid of dogs within an hour.”
Mark added: “An hour, two hours or even a week. I would like to go out and find a person to take my dogs [and for] people to love them the way I would, but I can’t just chuck it in a kennel and walk away.”
The first temporary modular units were installed at the former Gasworks site on Ferry Road at the beginning of August.
The units are part of a pilot scheme by Cardiff Council to tackle the immediate shortage of affordable housing in the city.
Nicola and Mark said they got into arrears after both of them became unable to work due to mental health struggles and the need to look after Jade.
They got in touch with Cardiff Council about selling their house in the spring and told the local authority that they would be in need of support.
The council offered the couple a property on Aberporth Road in Llandaff North in June, but Nicola and Mark argued that the proximity of the house to the main road made it unsafe and unsuitable for Jade and declined the offer.
Still high up on the priority band for social housing, the family continued to wait, hoping that something would come up before August 23 when they were due to move out.
The council has also advised the family to search for private rented accommodation, which they have the money for after the sale of the house.
However, finding suitable properties that would meet Jade’s needs and landlords who would be willing to accept the family’s situation has been difficult, according to Nicola and Mark.
Nicola said: “The problem we are having is, due to us not working due to mental health, they want guarantors, but we have got nobody who can [be] guarantors, no one at all.
“So, really we are in a situation where we don’t know what is happening. We have just got to find a house within seven days.”
Nicola and Mark said that because they refused the emergency accommodation at the Gasworks, they can’t have access to that emergency accommodation if their plans fall through.
The council said that there would need to be a change in circumstances for the family to present as homeless again.
Finding this out was like a “big kick in the teeth”, said Mark. He added: “It is all upheaval at the moment. We don’t know what we are going to do, we don’t know where we are going. No matter what, we have got to be out next week.
“We are coping as a family and we thought the council would give us a house and they failed us big time.
“I am not just doing this for my wife or me or my family, it is for my daughter [and] all disabled people who are in the same situation as us.”
There were more than 8,400 households on Cardiff Council’s housing waiting list in October 2022.
That number has gone down to 7,900 households according to updated figures, but the battle that the local authority has on its hands is still significant.
A Cardiff Council spokesperson: “Like other cities in the UK, Cardiff is experiencing a severe shortage of affordable housing and we understand the challenges many people are currently facing.
“An unprecedented number of households who are at risk of homelessness, or who are already homeless, are seeking help from the Council.
“Our temporary accommodation provision is full to capacity and we are constantly working on options to increase the amount of good quality accommodation we have available.
“We know that many private home owners are experiencing difficulties with affording their mortgage payments at this uncertain time.
“Help is available from the council for those who fall into mortgage arrears and are at risk of losing their home – for example, if we are contacted early enough, we may be able to negotiate an arrangement with the mortgage lender to allow a household to stay in the property.
“We have supported Mrs Whealan in her search for new accommodation, including an offer of a suitable council home in June which was declined.
“The family has been offered temporary accommodation in one of the council’s newest family homeless centres in the city at Yr Hafan, on the former Gasworks site in Grangetown.
“The accommodation provides bright and spacious, modern apartments with on-site support services for families.
“Unfortunately, this offer has also been declined.”
Nicola and Mark have viewed a property, but may not hear back on whether or not they will be accepted until next week.
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