Wales is in the midst of a housing crisis.
Whilst you’re unlikely to find many who disagree with that statement, there is a great deal of debate over what should be done about it.
For those on the frontline, the housing crisis means struggling to pay your mortgage, or not being able to pay your rent. Others worry about where they will spend the next night, some end up on the street sleeping rough. We cannot allow this to continue. Housing is a basic need, and the right to decent housing is as important as the right to healthcare. Any Government should treat it as such.
One thing is certain; we need to build more homes. Many more homes. We believe at least 100,000 in the 2020’s. To achieve this we must forge a new political consensus.
Demand for housing has outstripped supply in Wales, as across the UK, for many years. The extra requirement for housing is mainly due to the increase in the number of households, especially one-person households, but also other factors such as the increase in the overall population.
If future need and demand for housing in Wales is to be met, we must return to the rates of house building not seen for over 20 years. This was the conclusion of the late Professor Holman’s – a leading expert on housing demand – who the Welsh Government commissioned to look into this issue. His report concluded that Wales would require up to 12,000 new dwellings per year between 2011 and 2031 to avoid households living in unsatisfactory housing. This would require a significant increase in house building trends.
This shortage of homes has caused house prices in Wales to reach an all-time peak, with the average home now costing £184,722. This is roughly seven times average earnings in Wales. The issue of affordability is unprecedented.
Many people find themselves living in dysfunctional markets, whether that’s in the private rented sector, or through the ownership of a leasehold property. As demand for housing outstrips supply, the average couple in the private rented sector is spending roughly half of their salary on rent, making it extremely difficult to save for a deposit. The Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that by 2020 only a quarter of 30-year-olds will own their own home, despite the appetite to do so. In contrast, more than half the generation currently approaching retirement were homeowners by their 30th birthday.
But we can’t just focus our attention on new house building; we must fix the problems that already exist. Around 70% of homes that we will live in the 2050s will have been built before 2000, and we have some of the oldest housing stock in Europe. Latest estimates show that there are 291,000 households living in fuel poverty in Wales, equivalent to 23% of all households. These households usually have low incomes, and are often the most vulnerable in society. For these people, the inefficiency of their own home makes life unaffordable.
Earlier this year it was revealed that there were at least 23,000 empty private homes in Wales, and another 4,057 empty social homes. These high levels can have a serious impact on the viability of our communities, and bringing them back into use can have big social, regenerative and financial benefits. Empty properties are not the whole answer, but no government or local authority can ignore their potential. A balance needs to be struck to ensure that owners are both encouraged, and where appropriate, required to unlock the potential of this wasted resource.
The broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to social wellbeing, and it is hurting ordinary working people the most. There is so much more that we can and need to do across the whole industry to give people the security and stability that they need to flourish.
But sizable challenges are never answered by silver bullets, and so we must start with big ambition. The housing crisis and its drivers must be seen in a broader policy context. The lack of suitable housing has a negative effect on recruiting teachers, nurses and other public servants. The economy suffers too if there are not enough homes being built to attract new investors and entrepreneurs. The need for a holistic and cohesive strategy to tackle this issue has never been clearer.
Today we in the Welsh Conservatives have released a strategy to take Wales out of its housing crisis, and to put housing at the forefront of the political debate. Good quality and affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in Wales. Our strategy, Housing a Nation, presents our ideas to build our way out of this crisis, and to ensure that there is suitable housing for all.