Housing crisis isn’t confined to Welsh-speaking heartlands and coastal communities
Peredur Owen Griffiths, Plaid Cymru MS for the South Wales East Region
The extent of the housing crisis was thrown into sharp relief recently when it emerged that 88-year-old Norman Thomas, is the last Welsh speaker in Cwm-yr-Eglwys.
His is one of only two permanent households in this idyllic village on the Pembrokeshire coast.
Of course, Cwm-yr-Eglwys is not unique in this position – many coastal villages in Welsh speaking heartlands have experienced astronomical property price increases which leaves locals struggling to afford to buy in their own communities.
This problem is not confined to picture postcard villages. I represent South Wales East; an area not known for a saturation of second homes like some parts of the country.
Nonetheless, the communities I cover have been affected by the housing crisis. The crux of the issue – which applies whether you live in Abersoch or Abertillery – is that all too often people are not able to buy homes in the place they call home.
I have a constituent in Brynmawr who is unable to buy a house in the town as he has been priced out of the market. His family have lived in the area for generations.
In the last year, Caerphilly’s average property price jumped by over 10%. It is a similar picture in Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport and Merthyr Tydfil.
When you compare that to the increase in the average weekly wages in Wales over the last year – 0.31% or the equivalent of less than the price of a coffee in a café – it is easy to see why houses are becoming more and more unobtainable and why young people are commonly referred to as ‘Generation Rent.’
What this means is that people in some of the most deprived parts of Wales are being priced out of their communities. It is not a new phenomenon as wages have been losing pace with house price increases for decades, but the gap has grown so large in recent times that the dream of owning a home for many young people remains just that – a dream.
Some are fortunate enough to get support from the ‘Bank of Mam and Dad’ or another relative but, for those without family help, they have no choice but to turn to the rental sector where accommodation is less secure and homelessness is more of a threat.
We know from the work of the charity Shelter that young people have been impacted more by the economic brunt of the Covid crisis. They also warn that unless there is urgent Government action, there will be further long-term disruption and misery on yet another generation’s incomes and housing options.
Unfortunately, homelessness has been a major problem in Wales. Between April 2019 and March 2020, over 31,000 people approached their local authority for help with housing problems.
The rate of households being threatened with homelessness has also been increasing year on year.
These figures have now been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as it heralded a welcome injection of investment and political will to solve the issue. Coronavirus showed what can be achieved.
We cannot go back to the days of only paying lip service to solving homelessness which is why my party wants to enshrine the right to housing in law.
Clearly, there is the need to provide more affordable housing in Wales. But before we explore this further, we need to deal with some fundamentals: affordable housing is different from houses we can afford.
One is a term used by builders to comply with planning regulations and the other is a core issue for our families, friends, neighbours and future of our communities. I would like to see developers compelled to build more housing that is affordable and compelled to build these homes at the beginning of any project so that they cannot avoid their responsibilities towards the end of the construction period.
I think there is also the potential to make use of existing legislation to address the housing crisis. It can be deployed to mitigate the impact of a new development on a community, and it can also be used to prevent a development from being built as a holiday let.
Crucially it can prevent a home from being sold as a buy to let a within a prescribed period – or a combination of both.
They could be deployed with more rigour to address elements of the housing crisis and protect our communities.
My portfolio of Communities and Older People may not cover housing directly but one of the items on the top of my agenda is ensuring we have vibrant and sustainable communities.
This is the essence of living in Wales; the close-knit relationships that are fostered and maintained with the people living around you. Former Plaid leader Gwynfor Evans was right when he described Wales as “a community of communities.”
Clearly, there is much work ahead for this government in tackling the housing crisis to ensure that our communities are protected and strengthened.