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Welcome to the housing party – cross party housing group update

Following the most recent meeting of the cross-party group on housing on 10 February, Matt Kennedy, policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru, looks at the challenges the group are looking at, as well as what’s coming up on the horizon.

Matt Kennedy, Chartered Institute of Housing CymruIt is early days for the cross-party housing group in this fifth Assembly. Having been re-constituted in October 2016, Mike Hedges AM continues in his role as Chair of the group.  He now oversees the quarterly meetings which cover a broad range of housing related topics.

The cross-party group provides a unique opportunity for a range of organisations including, membership bodies, royal colleges and homelessness charities to support Assembly Members (often the respective housing spokespeople) as they seek to scrutinise and progress the housing agenda in Wales.

What did the cross party housing group focus on?

The first meeting focussed on the role, sustainability of and demand for preventative support services in Wales. John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru, reflected on the encouraging impact reflected by the national statistics on alleviating and preventing homelessness as we reach a year on from the implementation of the new approach to tackling homelessness in Wales. The first statistical release found that:

  • During 2015-16 for  4,599 households (65 per cent) homelessness was successfully prevented for at least 6 months
  • 3,108 households (45 per cent) were successfully relieved of their homelessness and helped to secure accommodation that was likely to last for 6 months
  • 1,245 (80 per cent) households were positively discharged and accepted an offer of permanent accommodation

The most recent meeting saw a focus on the challenges facing housing associations in contributing to the 20k affordable homes target. Aaron Hill of Community Housing Cymru presented to the group on the challenges brought about by the ONS decision to reclassify housing associations in Wales. This presentation highlighted the risk to boosting the supply of affordable housing as housing association borrowing could be restricted and furthermore, place the £2.5bn borrowing debt of welsh associations on the public accounts.

What’s on the horizon?

Next up will be gaining a further handle on the skills within the construction sector. We know that in Wales, large-scale infrastructure projects are high on the agenda, but there is considerable concern among members on how these projects could be a drain on the availability of skills needed to build the 20k affordable homes. In addition to this there are concerns on the lack of specialist expertise required to future proof homes, increasing energy efficiency, use of smart materials and meeting higher development standards could impact the pace with which the target is met.

It’s fair to say the group have quite the task to deliberate on what are very complex issues, within a short space of time. The impact of Brexit, role of the private rented sector, the future of funding for supported housing, the cap on housing benefit, the future of building standards are just a taste of the topics that will be considered over the life-time of the group. The desire is for the group to be action-orientated, with stakeholders outside of the assembly member contingent meeting regularly to discuss how the cross-party group can continue to be a positive vehicle for change.

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