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01 May 2024

Inside our response to Senedd Committee’s inquiry into social housing supply

Inside our response to Senedd Committee’s inquiry into social housing supply

At Community Housing Cymru, we see the Senedd’s Local Government and Housing Committee inquiry into social housing supply as a crucial step towards ensuring our sector can continue to provide vital social housing, and an important opportunity for all those involved in providing social homes in Wales to contribute ideas for positive change.

Our response to the committee’s inquiry comprises many of the core messages we have shared publicly and with Welsh Government over the past 12 months and preceding years. If you follow Community Housing Cymru closely, our initial comments may have been as expected given this is a key issue for us - though many of the new recommendations were honed from our own research and housing associations’ insights and experience.

Behind our statements and response lies a sector that is pragmatic, innovative, and focused on delivering social good for the communities it serves. Housing associations exist to provide social homes for the people of Wales - and want to continue doing this at scale for many years to come.

This is why, in our response to the inquiry, we have shared clear suggestions that we are collectively confident can address the multiple challenges social home developers are facing. We and the housing associations we represent are not just keen to play our part: our focus is on working with Welsh Government and others to create solutions that will allow us to build low carbon social housing at pace and scale over a long term, while ensuring we can continue to do other things like delivering vital tenant services and improving existing homes.

Addressing the housing crisis

Building new social homes is a critical part of Wales’s response to the housing crisis. Housing associations have been building up to 80% of the country’s new social homes in the past few years and continue to push forward still, despite layers of challenges.

Development does not exist in a vacuum, however, and as not-for-profit organisations, housing associations have to carefully balance maintaining and investing in existing homes and services for tenants. These services are wide-ranging and include care, budget advice, help to access welfare, and helping people get into work.

This has become even more important as the economic environment we all face continues to be turbulent. Inflation has meant that the cost of building homes and providing existing services has increased, while more tenants are facing financial difficulties themselves. Alongside this, we have seen a once in a generation reform with the introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act, and high ambitions on all sides for decarbonisation, standards, building safety and homelessness.

We and our housing association members are supportive of Welsh Government’s ambition in all of these areas but to make sure we can balance all of these aims and continue to deliver effectively, we need a more joined-up strategic approach. As we have stated in our response, if we want our sector’s innovative work to continue at the pace required to create the level and type of social housing stock needed in Wales, we must look at changing the way we do things and look at the housing crisis in a holistic way.

Our first recommendation to the committee is clear: we need a long-term, joined-up strategic approach for Wales.

If we had a national strategy in place (more detail on what this could look like and the impact it would have is set out in our published document), housing associations are already well positioned to play a vital role in it. Their focus on social value means they look beyond simply bricks and mortar, to how good homes can create thriving communities which enhance people’s lives, improve their wellbeing and health, and encourage local people to find greater satisfaction in the area.

This approach would not just mean that homes are built and delivered - it would have positive implications on other areas of great concern such as allowing for person-centred routes to addressing homelessness.

Further recommendations

Included in our full response are the most important changes that will ensure we can improve as a sector. A strategy is vital, but we need to look at the wider picture too and how we can implement measures for progress. These are not quick nor short term solutions, but if implemented they will ensure that we take our approach to social housing in a direction that works for the people of Wales for many years to come.

In brief, these further recommendations are as follows:

The overall funding environment must reflect strategic priorities

  • Recommendation: Welsh Government should work with social landlords, tenants and key partners to develop a long-term rent policy that ensures affordability for tenants and offers long-term certainty for landlords, with the ability to flex to local circumstances and communities.
  • Recommendation: Welsh Government must urgently set out the costs associated with meeting all elements of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023 and work with the sector to identify routes to finance long-term
  • Recommendation: Welsh Government extends the approach taken to Social Housing Grant (the primary mechanism by which new social home development is funded annually) by providing indicative multi-year settlements.

Systemic barriers to development need to be tackled

  • Recommendation: Welsh Government should work with partners to assess the scale of the planning capacity challenge and develop a long-term plan to make the planning system sustainable.
  • Recommendation: Building on existing work, the social housing sector should consider how Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) can best be supported to flourish, including working with the Welsh Government to identify where they can support.
  • Recommendation: Welsh Government should undertake a light touch review of its strategic approach to land as part of a wider housing strategy, with reference to the recommendations made in the 2019 Independent Review of Affordable Housing supply, and identify key next steps.
  • Recommendation: Welsh Government should continue to build on its data collection to aid in understanding progress to tackling systemic barriers.
  • Housing associations will continue to build on their understanding and act upon the views of tenants to ensure the right homes are being developed for specific individuals and communities.

Urgent action is needed to address process issues preventing new homes being built in the short-term

  • Recommendation: Welsh Government should take short term action to tackle planning backlogs by delivering on the First Minister’s commitment to an Affordable Homes Taskforce.
  • Recommendation: The Welsh Government should continue funding for the Transitional Accommodation Capital Programme (TACP) in 2024/25 and 2025/26 and consider how underspends or constraints on the Social Housing Grant (SHG) can be best utilised to support this.
Download our full response to the Local Government and Housing Committee's inquiry into social housing supply below.