In the week an Assembly committee launched an inquiry into small home builders and the latest rough sleeping count was published, we take a closer look at the latest housing policy developments from Wales.
What’s the Welsh Government’s approach?
Welsh Labour’s 2016 Assembly election manifesto included a pledge to build 20,000 affordable homes between 2016 and 2021. The new Minister for Housing, Julie James, has told Assembly Members that the government is on track to deliver on that ambition, but opposition parties have expressed concerns that overall housing stock is not growing at a fast enough rate. The Welsh Conservatives pointed out that while the latest estimates indicate 8,300 houses are needed annually, the number of new homes built between October 2017 and September 2018 was little over 6,000. The Tories also accused the government of “binning” recommendations made in a study it commissioned by the late Dr Alan Holmans in 2015, which found that up to 12,000 new homes a year are needed.
The Conservatives published their own housing strategy in December, pledging to match the 12,000-homes-a-year target and build 100,000 homes over the course of a decade. The plan also proposes that every new home should have an electric charging point installed and suggests scrapping land transaction tax for first-time buyers on properties up to £250,000.
Last summer the government commissioned an independent review to assess affordable housing supply and policies for delivering its 20,000 homes pledge. The review is set to report in April. Running alongside the review is the three-year, £90m innovative housing programme, which has been designed to stimulate the design of new models of housing that are quicker to build, more energy efficient and contribute to carbon reduction targets.
While never far from the agenda in the Assembly, homelessness has been a topic of considerable discussion of late, with Plaid Cymru’s housing spokesperson Leanne Wood criticising comments from the chief executive of a Cardiff-based homeless charity. Richard Edwards of the Huggard Centre sought to dissuade people from offering tents to rough sleepers, stating that it makes them less likely to access support services. There was further controversy when a Conservative Cardiff councillor was suspended after receiving backlash from politicians and celebrities after demanding the council “tear down” tents in the city centre.
On Tuesday in the Senedd, the First Minister referred to the latest national rough sleeping count when he said rough sleeping numbers in Wales are stabilising. He argued that Welsh Government interventions are starting to have an impact but said they can only do so much while the UK Government controls the administration of benefits.
Last year, the Welsh Government announced that it would pursue a ‘Housing First’ policy, which seeks to move a homeless person straight into stable accommodation instead of moving them through levels of housing until they are deemed ready to support themselves. In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Julie James updated Assembly Members on the government’s implementation of Housing First projects. With Shelter Cymru claiming that street homelessness in Wales is at “crisis point”, expect AMs to continue to press the Welsh Government on its actions to tackle this issue.
This week saw the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee begin its inquiry into the challenges facing small house-building firms. Representatives from the small house-building industry told AMs that the planning process, funding, and a lack of small plots of land in local plans are the main problems facing the sector. However, the government’s announcement of up to £210m for its Self-Build Wales scheme – set to launch this year – was welcomed as an opportunity for small house builders.
The Renting Homes (Fees etc.) Bill currently passing through the Assembly will limit the type of payments letting agents can charge tenants to rent, security deposits, holding deposits (limited to a week’s rent) and default payments. The Bill is designed to prevent agents from charging for services such as admin fees, credit checks or inventories. The legislation has received backing from across the Senedd, with evidence suggesting it will make renting more affordable and allow people to have more freedom to move if their property becomes unsuitable. Concerns have been raised that letting agents could offset money lost from not being able to charge additional fees by raising rent, but there has beee widespread agreement that this is preferable to large, up-front costs.
Assuming it passes, this will be the second Renting Homes Act brought forward by the Welsh Government in three years. The provisions of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 are expected to come into force this year; the Act is designed to make the renting process simpler, replacing complex existing legislation with a single legal framework. It will also replace all current tenancies with two types of occupation contract; secure and standard.
The Right to Buy came to an end last month, facilitated by legislation designed to alleviate pressure on Wales’ social housing stock. The Conservatives have continually argued against the measure, arguing that it will undermine social mobility. Another Act that received Royal Assent last year was the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords Act, a largely technical piece of legislation stemming from the Office for National Statistics’ revision of the classification of registered social landlords.
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Featured image: Tony Hisgett via Flickr