Whether seeking to rent or to purchase, finding a place to make your home in Cymru has become increasingly difficult. Today a single person in Wales pays around 33% from their monthly salary towards renting, or 49% into a new mortgage, when they can find decent housing at all.
The disaster of pushing the mindset that the only model for housing is owner-occupier, combined with a failure to protect private tenants, causes an exacerbation of the ongoing housing catastrophe. This lack of affordable and decent housing is aggravated by an outdated building sector, which continues to use techniques and materials unsuited to mitigating a climate catastrophe.
One size fits none
With rental and mortgage costs stretching most people, the number of families in Wales either in temporary accommodation or homeless has reached in excess of 13,000 households. Ending such monstrous social injustice and making decent housing a right for all must be at the heart of any compassionate society. One way of bringing this about could be through putting communities in charge of housing.
Praising its own Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill (2023), the government in Westminster called this legislation “a landmark that will deliver more homes for communities” across the UK. But in reality, this legislation puts more powers of rejecting the building of homes into the hands of council officials.
Away from London, Wales continues to suffer under this ‘one-size-fits-none’ approach to addressing the decent housing catastrophe. In this regard, Cymru needs a planning and home rental system which is specific to the needs of its people.
Zoning is commonly used across the rest of Europe and the Americas. It encourages the continued, but managed, growth of cities, towns, and villages. Zoning ensures the building of homes and businesses which fit the requirements of neighbourhoods. By embracing its own version of zoning, led by local peoples’ assemblies, Wales can demonstrate its capabilities of finding imaginative and caring solutions to the ongoing housing catastrophe. Such future laws will continue to evolve with the communities they are designed to serve.
New models for decent housing
Alongside legal changes to make the construction of homes more responsive to community needs, home ownership and rental models should be varied. They might include:
● Housing as a service: short-term rental and long-term hotels
● Community land trusts (CLTs): nonprofits which enable participants to own a home but not the land on which it is built, which is leased from the CLT. When the homeowner decides to sell, the CLT can repurchase the home at lower than market value or insist the home is sold to a new resident from a pre-defined income range
● Lease purchase programmes: a local housing finance firm or nonprofit buys on behalf of the future resident, known as the lease purchaser. After the lease purchaser demonstrates the ability to make timely payments they can purchase the home from the financing firm or nonprofit
● Build-to-rent: instead of building to sell to residents or investors, housing is retained to rent. This model can be particularly powerful in addressing the needs of communities with high numbers of students. An extension of this idea is to allow post-graduate students to remain following completion of their education, thereby upskilling areas
● Rent-to-buy: residents have the right to buy their rented homes, with money going from this into further new build rent-to-buy housing
● Shared equity: a way for buyers to own a fraction of their home and get a foot in the door.
The right to decent housing
A collaborative, community-based approach to house building and rethinking the model of ownership need to be partnered with new building systems and supply chains. Prefabricated or modular housing would see faster project completion and at costs 25% less than onsite construction with brick.
A factory-based process, modular homes lend themselves to innovation in design and quality. They give greater opportunity for local workforces to develop a variety of skills, are safer construction sites than traditional on-site building, and have end-of-life material reuse as part of the planning process.
Answering the call for decent housing to be a right of all in our society, Wales has to bring planning and the building of homes into the hands of communities. Through the use of inventive zoning laws, people’s assemblies, new building methods, and rethinking the model of ownership and rental, future generations may be protected from the worsening horror of the present housing catastrophe.