Wales is in the grip of a housing crisis.
Latest statistics reveal that there are 22,000 long-term empty properties in Wales and as part of a drive to bring up to 2,000 empty homes back into use, the Welsh Government last month announced the launch of the National Empty Homes Scheme, which would see a grant of £25,000 made available for home owners or prospective home owners to remove significant hazards from their properties to make them safe to live in and to improve their energy efficiency.
Further statistics would appear to corroborate the need for housing, particularly affordable housing. For instance, according to Statistics for Wales, there were a total of 235,557 social housing units in Wales as of the 31 st March 2021, and several Local Authorities across Wales report large numbers of households on housing waiting lists.
Only last September, a Freedom of Information request initiated by the Welsh Conservatives revealed that the average wait for those on council housing lists in Torfaen and Newport up to the period of 30 th June 2022, was 21 months and two years six weeks respectively. The data also showed that Torfaen spent £275,012 on housing families in temporary accommodation during the same period, including bed and breakfast accommodation.
Although Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen have the highest rate of social housing in Wales, the situation there is not unique. In June 2022, Pembrokeshire County Council disclosed that there were 5,545 people on the housing register at the end of March 2022, and were continuing efforts to increase its’ social housing stock in an effort to respond to the housing shortage.
In Swansea, 4,639 people were reported to be on the housing register in September 2021, with a quarter purportedly facing homelessness; and according to Cardiff Housing, there are 8,000 people waiting on the “Common Waiting List” with 400 new applicants each month, and only around 1,600 Council and Housing Association properties becoming available in the capital each year.
Across Wales, 8,000 individuals are in temporary accommodation and around 70,000 households are on social housing waiting lists.
No doubt, the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020-21 has had an impact on the situation, by contributing to surging house and rental prices throughout 2021 and 2022. Rightmove data released last summer, shows that Wales has experienced the second highest rent hikes in the UK, at 15.1% - the highest annual jump in 16 years. And evidence suggests that the increase of private rental prices has led to householders turning to the public sector for help, thereby exacerbating the demand for social housing.
Furthermore, Welsh Government estimates that we need to build between 6,200 and 8,300 new homes a year. During 2021-22, only 5,273 of those new homes were built.
What’s more, measures need to be introduced to ensure that given the scale of the demand in Wales, house-building and social housing needs to be tailored to the needs of our communities, particularly the most vulnerable.
While Wales does have levers at its disposal in terms of planning and housing development, we are lacking the economic and financial levers that would enable us to take more radical action.
Due to the Barnett formula, the amount of money we can invest in addressing the housing need in Wales is constricted. We can only start to get to grips with this issue when we have full control of our financial and economic institutions.
That can only come with independence.