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Gwent borough one of only two in Wales not using B&Bs for the homeless at the end of 2023

18 Jan 2024 4 minute read
The makeshift bed of a homeless person. Picture by Ben Salter (CC BY 2.0)

Twm Owen Local Democracy Reporter

A Gwent borough was one of just two areas in Wales that didn’t have to house people in bed and breakfast accommodation at the end of last year.

But the councillor responsible for tackling homelessness in Torfaen has warned the situation is so volatile it can change on a daily basis.

At the end of November there was nobody in Torfaen placed in a hotel or B&B for temporary housing. The only other council in Wales in this position was Ceredigion.

High demand

But Cllr David Daniels told Torfaen Borough Council’s cabinet: “That can change, it could change tonight. But we do very much need to celebrate wins when we’ve got them.”

The Labour councillor for Pontnewydd however said the housing situation “is as bad as it’s ever been” which he said he’s stated on previous occasions. The numbers of people presenting as homeless is comparable to previous years and demand is described as “high”.

However Cllr Daniels said the average waiting time for families to move into a permanent home, from temporary accommodation, had reduced from seven months in 2022 to three months while for a single person the 10-month average wait is down from 15 in 2022.

“It was much higher during the pandemic,” said Cllr Daniels: “I lost sleep over that we had people backing up waiting to go into temporary accommodation but we’ve come long way.”

The cabinet agreed a rapid rehousing plan that is intended to deal with homelessness in line with the Welsh Government’s intention that everyone facing homelessness is considered ready to be housed as soon as possible, provided appropriate support is in place, and that use of temporary accommodation is kept to a minimum.

Increasing supply

But a report to the cabinet warned the policy will take “several years to fully implement” as it needs a “significant increase in the number of affordable accommodation housing units to be developed or sourced”.

Pearl House. Image: LDRS

As a result the council is currently concentrating on increasing the supply of supported accommodation and semi-supported accommodation which includes the redevelopment of Pearl House, in the centre of Pontypool, to 15 flats which will provide around the clock support to homeless residents.

Hales House, in Pontypool, is also changing to provide generic supported housing rather than being accommodation specificly for young people who are now supported by Ty Cyffle in Abersychan.

There are currently more than 200 households on a waiting list for housing support services.

Other projects the council has been working on as part of the plan include developing semi-supported accommodation units across the borough, a private leasing scheme for homeless households, plans to support people moving on from temporary accommodation and support for people with specific needs such as mental health and offenders.

But Cllr Daniels, who has highlighted how the council’s funding for homelessness is being reduced by the Welsh Government, said effort from the UK Government is needed to address what he called a “housing crisis”.

He said: “There doesn’t seem to be an interest or recognition of the scale and importance of the crisis at UK Government level. Credit to the Welsh Government they do seem to get the gravity of the housing emergency. It will require substantial commitment from the UK Government at the moment it does not seem to be a focus.”

Housing pressure

Pressure on housing in Torfaen has seen average house prices and rents increase.

Figures included in the council’s plan show the average house price increased from £179,000 in 2020 to nearly £200,000 in 2022 while the average rent for a one bed property in 2019 was £415 but has now hit £615.

“That is taking a larger chunk of people’s disposable income and making it even harder to save to get a mortgage. It totally eliminates one avenue of housing for a lot of people,” said Cllr Daniels.

The average waiting time for social housing in Torfaen, which is provided by housing associations, is 1.5 years and Cllr Daniels said: “It is even longer in the south of the borough and for one bed properties.”

The policy aims to reduce the supply of temporary accommodation in the longer term, with supported accommodation increased, and also intends to ensure other services such as health work towards reducing homelessness.

The report to the council also warned “directing too much accommodation towards homelessness” will “perpetuate demand” and could mean affordable housing only becoming available to those who are homeless. Councillors and officers having raised thier concern with the Welsh Government as its plans have suggested homelessness is prioritised “above all other household needs”.

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