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Welsh Tenants feature

Tenants’ aspirations for the next government 

We need a bigger, bolder progamme for housing, says Steve Clarke.

Few would argue that good housing is a keystone. It’s the foundation for everything we can aspire to achieve. Without it, we have fewer opportunities upon which to build aspirational communities. That’s why the Welsh Tenants were pleased to support the Homes for Wales coalition to ‘build a stronger Wales’. That’s why improving supply while sustaining our existing housing should be at the forefront of our thinking as we embark on the next five years of a Welsh government.

Of course every home that we build requires the manufacturing of bricks, the cutting of slates, the development of lasting skills and infrastructure – it makes sense. But we also need to ensure that the housing we provide is accessible for the needs of a changing population. Yes we should attract high end skills to Wales, and to provide houses for people who want to bring them, but we also need to ensure that housing remains affordable for people in Wales. Supply is therefore critical to ensure people have the appropriate choices that are applicable to their income capacity, their health, age and support needs. However, supply alone does not guarantee access, as a recent House of Commons report Can private landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants? confirmed.

Rent is for to many becoming unaffordable while below average earners have seen their rents bear no relation to the standards of housing and management provided. That’s why we believe that the next government must think about how we link supply and affordability, standards and earnings – or risk increasing poverty for thousands of renters. If that means taking out the profit incentive from renting and providing better value for money for the renter and the public purse, we must make those tough decisions.

Naturally, we believe that it’s important that there is a strong voice for renters. There is a need to strengthen the processes of independent tenant support and empowerment individually and collectively. We can only improve transparent decision shaping if tenants are better informed, involved and supported. We do have the potential to build representation and support to envy that of Europe not just the British Isles. We have the history, to build on that legacy.

Another important principle is ‘tenure insecurity’ that costs governments and support organisation millions while being a barrier to building sustainable communities. It is right that we challenged the ending of the six-month moratorium, and put greater emphasis on providers introducing fair and proportionate arrangements where consumers require it. But not at the cost of longer-term security.

Among other principles, we believe that we must also seek to challenge existing convention. For example, tenancy deposits schemes now holds over a billion pounds. Interest earned provides for the costs of the scheme, but can we get better value by having a Wales-specific scheme where interest earned can be better demonstrated to provide value for Welsh renters?

Alongside some core principles around ‘affordability’, ‘choice’, ‘standards’, ‘representation’ and ‘security’, we should perhaps be exploring how a ‘special rapporteur’ for Wales could look at how we bring together, the renting consumer interest to drive improvements and support.

We also need to consider how we network in the A roads of ‘land supply and planning’, ‘investment’, ‘skills’ ‘design’ into a super highway to get moving on house building initiatives including supporting the small builders to access that highway.

Housing is too important an issue to leave to market forces. We have achieved a great deal, but more needs to be done to make housing the most important issue for Wales. We cannot allow our children to be subject to market forces that compel the poorest to pay for unsuitable accommodation, that contents only the wealthy. Housing requires a long-term vision and a sustainable plan to be realised.

Making our money work better for Welsh people has to be the agenda. Wales has a plethora of organisations that are very different in their scope, but all would support the view that the restriction of supply of housing will never provide a solution to the housing crisis, neither has the focus on owner occupation.

2016 brings a plethora of anniversaries together, 100 years of CIH Cymru and 50 years since Cathy Come Home that sparked the formation of Crisis and a year later Shelter. It also laid the agenda for the manifesto of the Harold Wilson government in 1967 that set out a bold growth vision for the UK.

If there is a single message Welsh Tenants would bring to a new Welsh Government, it’s that we need a bigger bolder programme, that starts planning today for the needs of tomorrow.

Steve Clarke is managing director of Welsh Tenants

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