Aaron Hill believes that the social housing sector is uniquely placed to deal with the next Assembly’s priorities.
As we head towards Assembly elections next year, various sectors and organisation will be vying for attention, with a huge number of calls for the next Welsh Government to prioritise funding and legislation.
Many will be able to refer to the huge impact on the economy, jobs and growth, but few will be able to point to a sector that is as serious as housing associations about tackling three of Wales’ most pressing issues: homelessness, climate change and health.
Heading into the 2016 election, the housing sector and many others across Wales led the Homes for Wales campaign making the case for housing, and the Welsh Government responded accordingly. Housing has been a key feature of the political debate since 2016, but now is the time to check in on our progress and raise our collective ambitions.
This time around, whether the parties are Securing Change for Wales, standing Together for Wales or simply looking to offer The Change Wales Needs in 2021, there are three systemic challenges facing Wales that we must agree on a response to. The tragedy of rising homelessness, the growing climate emergency, and the health of Wales as a nation require not just pause for thought, but serious action.
In 2017, we set our Housing Horizons vision of a Wales where good housing is a basic right for all, which marked out a new ambition for housing associations to go beyond what we already do and achieve much more. To build 75,000 low carbon homes, to invest 95p in every pound in Wales, and to decarbonise our existing stock were bold ambitions. As Wales faces up to those three big existential challenges, they are ideas whose time has come.
When we launched our vision, we knew that the impact of delivering our ambition would be huge. However, our research launched this week shows that the £23.2bn of economic activity and 50,000 jobs that these new homes would support is just the starting point.
It seems that whichever party, or combination of parties, forms the next Welsh Government, they will take the reins just a few months on from the conclusions of the UK’s negotiations for a trade deal with the EU. The housing sector, which is rooted in supporting local businesses and keeping the Welsh pound in Wales, investing 95p in every pound it spends, and creating 19,500 local training opportunities, will be vital to the our economic and social wellbeing in a nation that is finding its way in the world once more.
Our research shows that significant investment in building new social housing and reducing the carbon emissions of existing homes goes beyond the traditional economic realm though, and could save more than £1bn in health outcomes and fuel bills across Wales.
Alongside our research, the most recent intervention on health inequality from Sir Michael Marmot was emphatic about the impact of good housing on the health of a nation. While his report may only have considered evidence from England, its author has said that his damning conclusions on declining health outcomes in our poorest communities are likely to be reflected in all the constituent nations of the UK. The report was explicit that investment in new social housing and reduced carbon emissions from all of our existing homes are part of the solution.
The current figures for housing need and demand show that we need to be building around 4,000 social homes a year in Wales. Over the course of an Assembly term, the total cost of delivering those would be around £3bn, but working with housing associations who attract investment at scale to parts of Wales which otherwise would receive that, the cost to Government would fall to somewhere between £1bn and £1.5bn over the course of five years.
Housing associations bring so much more than private investment to the table. Our commitment to end evictions into homelessness and ensure we set affordable rents locally, in partnership with tenants, sets us apart from many other housing providers.
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Our investment in local businesses and prioritising of local supply chains will strengthen the Welsh economy and ensure that we are rooted in the places we work. And our partnerships with local government and private developers can ensure that the whole housing market works for everyone – from social housing to homes for sale.
Together, the investment in new and existing homes would not come cheap, but the challenges we face are serious. For too long, housing has been the Cinderella of public services, and it is time for it to be put alongside health and education as the jewels in the nation’s crown.
As the manifesto printing presses whir, the purse strings loosen, and the time arrives for pledge cards and TV debates, politicians in Wales must ask themselves: Are you serious about tackling the climate emergency? Are you serious about ending homelessness? Are you serious about the health of the nation?
Because housing associations are, and they stand ready to work with you.
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