Georgina Shackell Green argues that solving the housing crisis will deliver benefits across government
The existence of a housing crisis is something that few across the political spectrum would dare to contest. A growing population alongside increasing numbers of one and two person households, spiralling rents and a sheer lack of availability, has led to a dire lack of affordable, suitable homes for people across Wales. This is an issue that has been discussed for years and the evidence shows it worsening.
The housing crisis varies in every part of the UK, and while buying or renting a home is significantly more accessible in Wales than Central London, comparisons between the two don’t paint the full picture. The issues of under-supply and affordability that have plagued the UK capital for years are as much a part of everyday life in Wales. We simply have not built enough homes in Wales; even using the lowest estimation of need in Wales, there has been a near 30% shortfall in the number of homes built since 2011.
Politicians in Wales agree that this is happening. They know that there is a shortage of affordable, suitable housing, and we were delighted that every party elected to the Assembly in 2016 supported our Homes for Wales campaign to end the housing crisis.
When we ran that campaign, even the use of the phrase “housing crisis” was questioned, but it is now common parlance in Assembly debates and policy discussions. The solution seems obvious, so as the Assembly returns for business, we now need to create a consensus around how we build more good quality, affordable houses.
Housing is one of the Welsh Government’s priorities in Prosperity for All and so it must remain beyond this Assembly term. Housing associations are on course to deliver the 12,500 homes we committed to as part of Welsh Government’s 20,000 home target. But our ambition goes beyond that.
Last year, Community Housing Cymru launched Housing Horizons, our vision of a Wales where good housing is a basic right for all. We know that good housing has major positive impacts on other areas of life and government, such as health and education, but is this widely recognised in public policy?
The ongoing Independent Review of Affordable Housing in Wales, which we called for when we launched our vision, provides an exciting opportunity to consider how we fund homes, the standards to which we build them, and how we make them affordable. But political momentum is required too. With two recently completed leadership elections, and two ongoing, we must be sure not to lose sight of the commitment of all parties to solving the housing crisis.
This is as true of government as it is within the parties too. There are six cabinet secretaries in Welsh Government and each of these should be interested and invested in improving housing in Wales.
Housing associations are a key part of the foundational economy, contributing almost £2bn to the Welsh economy each year. The Economy and Transport secretary also has a huge role to play in ensuring that transport links allow the homes we build to create successful communities.
Health and Social Services have a huge impact on housing and good housing reduces the presentation of both physical and mental illnesses, lessening the strain on GP and accident and emergency services, thus saving money.
Good housing and good communities help to develop skills, improving people’s education and opportunities, as well as keeping children in one school system, rather than having to swap schools when their housing situation changes.
Local Government and Public Services are influenced by good housing. When people are in a stable home they are more invested in their communities, using local services such as parks and leisure centres, and taking pride in the areas surrounding them.
Good housing is more energy efficient, reducing costs to those who reside in it, whilst also lessening the impact on the planet. This is a huge factor that should help persuade the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs that investing in housing is integral.
These points all demonstrate the impact on Welsh finances, keeping money in Wales and generating more money that will be spent here, which should be good news to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance.
What these points demonstrate is the need for these departments to work collaboratively with one aim – fixing the housing crisis. The development of more good quality housing will have a positive influence on many other areas of public life, not just housing. This highlights how important it is that different departments consider ways in which they can work together, even if this means investing in areas they may not traditionally invest in and focusing on areas they may not traditionally focus on.
Developing both a political consensus and more joined up government are no small task, but if we want a Wales where everyone can live in a safe, warm and affordable home, we all must act now.
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