Moving towards Wales’ first Housing Bill
May 2012 saw the launch of the Housing White Paper Homes for Wales. The White Paper and the Housing Bill to which it will lead, represent a great opportunity for the Welsh Government to demonstrate its housing stewardship role and to ensure that appropriate interventions are made across the whole housing system. They also represent a major opportunity for the housing sector to continue to influence housing policy and to contribute to delivery.
The document notes that the Welsh Government does not have control over all elements of the housing system, and that the austerity and welfare reform measures being implemented by the Westminster Coalition Government are making things progressively more difficult. However, it also makes clear that there is plenty of action that can be taken to help the system work more effectively and efficiently and to make it more flexible to help people to meet their changing needs for housing at different points throughout their lives.
The White Paper sets out an ambitious programme for legislative and non-legislative action on housing. It is based on the Welsh Government vision of a future where everyone has a home that they can afford that meets their needs; where homelessness does not exist; where homes meet standards for safety, design, quality and energy efficiency and where renting a home from a social or private landlord is seen as a good option. Co-operative housing will become a much more significant part of the housing system and not-for-profit organisations such as housing associations will be used to greater effect as part of the new public services model for Wales. There would also be even better, more integrated, policies and public services and joint action between organisations, with effective collaboration between local authorities and more help and support for people to live independently if needed.
The Welsh Government commitment to social housing remains as firm as ever, but, in that context, the White Paper sets out a comprehensive approach aimed at developing new and innovative ways of helping people to meet their housing needs, irrespective of tenure.
Many interventions in the housing market do not require legislation. The White Paper contains a range of examples including the introduction of a Property Improvement Loan scheme, increasing work towards achieving the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and support for home buyers.
However, the power that the Welsh Government has to pass legislation is a powerful tool. The White Paper includes proposals for radical legislation to ensure that much more is done to prevent homelessness, including eliminating family homelessness by 2019 and to improve the conditions for individuals and families who rent their home from private landlords. In addition, it includes proposals to tackle the waste and blight of empty properties by giving local authorities discretionary power to increase council tax on properties empty for longer than one year and to introduce a statutory duty on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities where there is evidence of a clear need for new sites. The Welsh Government also wishes to enable a new co-operative housing tenure to aid development of co-operative housing as a housing choice and to enhance the strategic role of local authorities.
The programme set out in the White Paper is ambitious – implementing it will require innovation, collaboration and collective endeavour from all stakeholders.
As the oft-heard phrase says devolution is a process and not an event – all of us working in housing need to make the most of this part of the process.
- The Housing White Paper is online at http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/housingcommunity/?lang=en
- It is open for consultation until 17 August 2012
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