Why housing is one of the key issues facing Wales
Mike Hedges MS for Swansea East
Homelessness is an affront to any civilised society. I welcome the acceptance, we have had from the Welsh housing Minister, that homelessness in not just rough sleeping. It is also people sofa surfing, sleeping on floors, those who have no fixed abode, or those living in massively overcrowded accommodation.
We desperately need more social housing, including council housing. We need to build council housing quantities back at the level we were building them in the 1950s and 1960s. We also need to support the private rented sector, which is now the second largest housing sector.
A large number of those who are homeless need supported accommodation. An empty building, remote from friends and family, with no support, will lead to homelessness very quickly again for many.
They need support, not just a building, from organisations such as the Wallich and Lamnau. We have had people inadequately housed who are living in temporary accommodation in Wales and, as the Senedd Member for Swansea East, most weeks I am contacted by people who desperately need suitable, affordable rented accommodation.
Housing is one of the key issues facing Wales, after food and water, it is the next need that people have. Far too many houses are empty and not enough council housing is being built. Now the second most common housing tenure after owner-occupation is privately renting.
I know from a family member that there is a shortage of privately rented accommodation at an affordable price or, in some cases, at any price at all. We need councils, housing associations and the private landlord properties available to meet the demand for rented accommodation.
Empty houses are a wasted resource at a time of substantial housing demand, they also represent a potential housing resource that is currently massively underutilised. Bringing empty homes back into use can help to address housing issues by increasing the supply in areas where there are housing shortages.
If all efforts to persuade owners to bring their properties back into to use fail, and such properties continue to prove to be a nuisance or be in poor condition, councils need to consider their enforcement powers.
What we really need though are compulsory purchase powers for councils. When a house or flat has been empty for over five years, they should
be able to compulsorily purchase those buildings. Once a compulsory purchase has taken place, the property could then be sold on to housing associations, owner-occupiers, or private landlords, bringing the accommodation back into use.
But between 1945 and 1959 which were six years of Labour, eight years of Conservative Government, 120,000 council houses were built in Wales. This was a Conservative Party that was very different to the Party of today, a Conservative Party of Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, who really accepted the social democrat way forward.
Building council houses was seen as a challenge by both political parties and, by the mid-1970s, there was an equilibrium between demand and supply for rented housing. The equilibrium was broken by the discounted sale of council housing and the near complete ending of council house building from 1979.
With thousands homeless or inadequately housed, the best means of providing quality, affordable housing is via the building of council houses. Whilst housing association developments and renovations provide accommodation, they are not set up to build at the scale required to meet the growing housing need.
As in the 1945-70 period, the only way of providing these large numbers of social housing properties is by councils starting to build in large numbers. This should not cost the Government money, as councils could borrow prudently against their reserves and the value of their properties.
One of the problems is the arbitrary way that UK Treasury looks at
borrowing, with borrowing to build council housing counting against the public sector borrowing requirement, which it never used to do, but housing association borrowing does not, this is not true in other countries.
The Welsh Government needs to set a target of increasing the number of council houses they build each year, aiming to reach 5,000 houses a year in 2030-31. We also need to work on our private rented landlords to make sure that their housing is brought into use.
I have a concern about Airbnb, which is taking out the private housing
availability, and people are being left without housing because of it. I commend the scheme where the Government allows private rented sector landlords to give their houses over to the Welsh Government to rent so that they can rent those properties to social tenants and the private landlords get a guaranteed income.
We need to increase the quantity of properties available for rent on every type of tenure, because everyone deserves a suitable home. I want to raise my concern about the number of houses and flats, again, becoming Airbnb.
This is something somebody that has to be addressed because it is causing a distortion in the rented housing market and making it difficult for people looking to rent a property.
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