Skyrocketing homelessness during Covid crisis amid ‘immoral’ second home ownership
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A recent report has shed light on an “alarming” jump in homelessness in Gwynedd.
Concern at the figures led one councillor to point to the “immoral” scenario of 7,000 second homes in the county lying empty for most of the year.
Partially blamed on the pandemic, a meeting of the council’s cabinet heard that demands on the authority’s homelessness teams had “increased significantly” over recent months, hitting record numbers.
The authority is currently in the process of building temporary units to house some of the county’s homeless, as they await a more permanent solution.
But councillors stressed the housing crisis was making the situation worse.
Carys Fôn Williams, the recently appointed head of housing and property, said: “The numbers of homeless people are currently the highest we’ve ever seen with a year on year increase.
“If things continue to follow a similar pattern then this year we expect to receive over 1,000 referrals for the first time ever.
“This isn’t unique to Gwynedd of course, and is a pattern seen across Wales.”
She added: “We simply don’t have enough houses to accommodate all of those presented to us.”
The start of the pandemic saw the Welsh Government abolish the ‘priority need’ condition when considering homelessness referrals, compelling councils to house all those who presented themselves as homeless and to ensure that no-one was sleeping rough.
But the report went on to state that this increase had been “alarming” and resulted in a “significant strain on staff,” having attempted to increase the capacity to meet this need.
While 576 presented themselves to the council as homeless in 2018/19 and 593 in 2019/20, this figure rose sharply to 812 during 2020/21.
But of particular concern to officers was the 452 who did so during only the first six months of the present financial year.
Last December saw adoption of an ambitious £77m action plan , designed to build and renovate hundreds of properties by 2027, partially funded by hiking the council tax premium on holiday homes to the maximum legal level.
Including proposals for the authority to build its first new homes since transferring its stock to housing association Adra (formerly CCG), it was also proposed to:
- Facilitate over 500 new affordable homes including the construction of 100 of new homes to be sold or let to Gwynedd residents
- Offer loans to 250 local first-time buyers
- Deliver more than 600 new social homes including buying 72 former council houses to rent to locals
- Extend grant scheme to bring 250 empty houses back into use across the county
- Invest in environmentally-friendly homes
- Develop 150 living units for homeless people and create another 130 new units for vulnerable residents.
Cllr Nia Jeffreys went on to refer to the “hidden homelessness” in several communities, including her own in Porthmadog.
In response the portfolio holder for housing went on to say that while the pandemic had continued to hamper efforts early in the scheme, there had been successes.
‘Worsened over Covid’
“We’ve tackled those sleeping on the streets but hidden homelessness has worsened over covid, sleeping on sofas and so on,” concluded Cllr ab Iago.
“Its not just the pandemic that’s responsible for this but people are snapping up our houses and using them as AirBnBs and so on, which means there are fewer homes for locals.
“There’s an example locally of a couple with newly born triplets and another young child who are having to sleep in her mother’s bedroom, it isn’t morally right in a first world country.
“It doesn’t make sense that this type of thing is happening.”
Cllr Dafydd Meurig referred to the fact that £1m had been spent on Bed and Breakfast temporary accommodation over the past six months alone, with no certainty if the Welsh Government’s Hardship Grant would continue to cover such costs past April 2022.
“There is no lack of housing in Gwynedd, there’s 7,000 empty homes in the county which are empty for most of the year as they’re second homes.
“Some people have two houses while others are sleeping on relative’s sofas, which is an immoral situation in my view.”
The cabinet accepted the report.