If we don’t solve the housing crisis, we will have homelessness crisis
Mabon ap Gwynfor, Senedd Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd
When I opened the debate on the Housing Crisis in the Welsh Parliament in June, I started with the words “We live in an age of crises and these crises are interlinked.”
I didn’t mean they were interlinked simply because they belong to the same terrible collection – a collection of crises that no-one asked for, and certainly no-one wants to be bequeathed to them. What I meant was that these are linked by a common factor: housing.
In terms of the climate crisis, 14 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the UK come from the housing stock, and Wales has the oldest housing stock in Europe, which is less energy efficient and needs more maintenance.
In terms of the current Covid crisis, we can now make a direct and indirect link between the impact of Covid on some victims and the quality of their housing.
Or, if we look at the economic crisis, more wealth is being accumulated in the hands of a small number of people, who are buying larger numbers of properties, while the poor become poorer and homelessness is increasing.
These are just three examples. And now we can add housing itself to the list of crises.
What’s the emergency?
House prices have increased by 15.6% in Wales in a year, but with average wages not keeping pace, more and more people are being priced out of the places they call home. In fact, 67,000 families are currently on housing waiting lists across Wales.
According to Shelter Cymru “because we don’t have enough social housing… people end up trapped in unaffordable private rented accommodation or in homelessness.”
Almost half of the housing stock in Dwyfor Meirionydd were sold as second homes last year, new statistics have revealed. New data from the Wales Audit Office shows that 44% of the properties sold in Dwyfor Meirionydd in 2020-21 were classified as Higher Rates – which would almost certainly be second homes.
The statistics also show that Dwyfor Meirionydd contributed the most in land transaction tax to the Welsh treasury coffers due to the high number of sales from Higher Rates properties, followed by Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen West and Anglesey.
Meanwhile, a quick look at rental opportunities in Tenby in Pembrokeshire – according to Zoopla – show there are currently no properties available to rent. Compare that to properties available to let for holiday use, and AirBnB list over 150 in Tenby alone.
This brings us to a problem I mentioned briefly above when talking about the economic crisis: people are snapping up properties either as an investment, or, more commonly if AirBnB is to be believed, for second home or holiday let purposes. This is pushing up the property prices in the area, and pushing out the people who would live there all year round.
And these are real people – not merely statistics.
Young families who can’t afford to buy their first home for their growing family because the house they wanted has been converted to a holiday let. Young professionals who can’t stay in their hometown to live and work because they’re being priced out of their communities.
I recently attended a Shelter Cymru panel event with George Monbiot, Guardian columnist. We were both in agreement when he said that when property becomes a “luxury that deprives other people of a necessity.” It’s when “greed has been allowed to displace need.”
This carving up of Wales’ housing stock as an investment opportunity has not gone unnoticed.
This weekend will see the culmination of a 3 day trek to Capel Celyn by campaigners from the Ceredigion branch of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society), who are calling for a Property Act to ensure future viability of Welsh communities. Capel Celyn is the village that was flooded to provide water for Liverpool – a visual symbol of a Welsh community destroyed by market forces.
If we do nothing, if we allow this crisis to gain in severity, we are effectively pricing the younger generations out of their home. What we are calling a housing crisis, will, for many, be a homelessness crisis.