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Cymorth Cymru – Much more than a numbers game

The Independent Review of Affordable Housing Supply is an opportunity to build inclusive communities and end homelessness, argues Jordan Brewer.

Crisis research tells us that we need 4,000 additional units of social housing every year for the next 15 years if we are to meet housing need in Wales. We have a lot of catching up to do, but the Affordable Housing Review provides a real opportunity to step up to this challenge. We have been encouraged by the minister’s clear focus on building more social housing as well as people across a range of sectors who are considering how housing supply can be increased across Wales.

There is, however, a danger of creating a disconnect between what people want and need, and what may be delivered, if the focus is simply on speed and scale.

In the planning and construction of bricks and mortar houses it’s common to use words that seem prescriptive, like ‘stock’ and ‘units’. This language can distance us from the qualities that create warmth and stability in the homes which people live.

The panel clearly made efforts to get the perspective of people with a diverse range of experience across Wales, but these perspectives must be listened to and acted on for effective delivery. Listen to people experiencing homelessness. Listen to people who are made vulnerable by societal inequalities and complex systems. Listen to what they need, and ensure this guides decisions.

There are eight key areas of work which the recommendations fall under and all are important parts of the jigsaw. ‘Understanding housing need’, however, will be the bedrock of a successful implementation. The panel dedicated a reassuring amount of time on understanding housing, focusing on both social and financial factors. Although essential, mapping need goes beyond the number of units and stock availability. Understanding need means understanding people and how the quality, location and affordability of their home affects their ability to live safely, independently and thrive in their communities.. It means understanding people, not as one homogenous group, but as diverse individuals who need different things from a home.

When planning new social housing developments, we need to be asking a range of holistic questions:

  • Will these homes be accessible for people with mobility difficulties?
  • How can we ensure that people will be able to access health and support services they need?
  • Could a person easily get to work from here?
  • Can we include units for supported housing or Housing First?
  • Can we provide affordable homes for people on under-35s shared accommodation rate?
  • Will choice and quality be provided, and will people be able to afford it?
  • How can we reduce the cost of living for people on low incomes?

Our members often work with people who experience significant isolation from traditional, and often complex structures and systems: survivors of domestic abuse, people with substance use problems, people leaving prison and people rough sleeping. If we are to end homelessness and enable people to thrive, we need to provide more than just a roof over people’s head. We also need to provide safety and support, reduce isolation and enable people to build on their strengths.

The review presents an opportunity to take a societal approach to ending homelessness and creating thriving communities.

The Welsh Government’s decision on rent policy will obviously be a key part of this, with ministers needing to find the right balance between protecting tenants and enabling social landlords to build the homes people need. Work to reduce energy costs through low or zero carbon homes is another priority for tenants.

The review suggests the creation of a ‘prospectus’, which would describe the quality of homes and the range of criteria to be met by housing associations and local authorities who want to access grant funding.

This provides us with an opportunity to make social housing grant a little less transactional in nature and embed a more holistic approach to reducing homelessness. The concept of a ‘prospectus’ could play a big part in this and ask social landlords to evidence their wider contribution to ending homelessness beyond the provision of more housing stock. It could ask them to evidence a trauma informed approach housing management, eliminate evictions into homelessness, allocate more housing to people who have been homeless and commit more of their stock to supported housing and Housing First schemes.

We are in the midst of a housing crisis, people are in desperate need of homes and immediate and decisive action is needed.  Importantly though we have to make sure that time, resource and care are dedicated to build homes and communities where people can thrive and realise their aspirations.

The possibilities are many, and we need widespread ambition and commitment to do things very differently, to realise those possibilities – and to make a potentially massive difference to people, even now, who are desperate for homes.

Jordan Brewer is policy and communications officer at Cymorth Cymru

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