“Joke” Section 106 agreements not delivering enough social houses

(Title Image: © Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Believes that there needs to be a substantial increase in the scale of building social housing in Wales.

£200,000 “affordable” homes?

Repeating something she said in a previous housing debate, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said there was a 4,000 unit gap between the current rate of social housing construction and social housing need.

The Welsh Government have a target to create 20,000 affordable homes, but there was a need for a greater distinction between “affordable” and “social” as the definition of the two were increasingly muddied.

“….since the 2016 election when the target of 20,000 affordable homes was brought in, the 3,458 homes sold through Help to Buy since will be counted towards that target. Now, this is a particular issue when we consider that 1,390 of those homes – 40% of those homes – were sold for over £200,000. There’s clearly a misuse, therefore, of the term ‘affordable’. How many first-time buyers can really save up and afford to buy a home at £200,000?”
– Leanne Wood AM

Plaid Cymru will pledge to build 20,000 social houses and will separate the social housing sector from the private sector. Relying on “joke Section 106 agreements” wouldn’t cut it anymore.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) said as recently as 1974, in most constituencies more than half of all housing was social/council housing, while in some areas it was 80-90%. Since 1980, council house building has almost ground to a halt and housing associations have grown from small local organisations to major national companies, but:

“Housing associations aren’t going to meet the gap. When people talk about social housing, too often they’re talking about housing associations. We need councils building houses. We’ve seen the beginning of it in places like Swansea. There has been some small-scale development of council housing, but nowhere near what was happening between 1945 and 1979.”
– Mike Hedges AM

“Delivery hasn’t matched demand”

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said the raw statistics spoke for themselves; local authorities granted planning permission for 13,335 affordable homes over the last ten years yet just 6,746 have been built. Council were relying on profit-driven private developers to meet demand but will try to wriggle out of affordable housing commitments.

Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central), said a 40:60 split between social and market housing was a reasonable minimum expectation. He didn’t think allowing councils to build vast estates as they did in the past was a viable option, but housing associations needed to be further empowered, perhaps via pension funds or a co-operative model – which is used internationally.

In addition to calling for loopholes – which allow second home owners to register second homes as a small business, avoiding all tax and getting business rate relief – to be closed, Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) outlined the human impact of housing pressures:

“….there are 2,000 families on the waiting list in Gwynedd for social housing. My surgeries are full of people living in unacceptable conditions in private rented accommodation that is damp, too small or expensive to heat, leading to fuel poverty, or families come to me and they have to share homes with their parents or other relatives or friends.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

Later on, Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) made a point that social housing needed to be good quality housing; poorly constructed social housing from the second half of the 20th century led to a stigma about social renting.

“Absolutely committed”

Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), said the Welsh Government were “absolutely committed” to delivering more social housing through housing association; there was no point quibbling over figures as everyone knows they’re needed. The Welsh Government’s 20,000 target does include a proportion of social homes:

“….homes for social rent make up very much the largest proportion of the 20,000 target, and I’d be very keen to see that target extended….I’m confident we’ll deliver that commitment in partnership with local authorities and registered social landlords, who have made a record investment of £1.7 billion in housing during this Assembly term.”
– Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James

The Minister said it was important not to create “ghettos” of social housing divided from everything else, but instead create mixed communities.

The motion was carried unanimously.

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