Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Housing matters

In 1988 Wales was run from over Offa’s Dyke by Peter Walker. He was Secretary of State for Wales at the time. He was offered the job by Mrs Thatcher as an insult. To her he was a dripping “wet” and could not be trusted with a major department of State. 
He did wrestle out of her one commitment. That he be given a free hand to develop his own policies for Wales. This commitment was easily granted for she regarded Wales as the UK gulag. So what someone “that was not one of us” got up to there, was of little concern.
One of the things he got up to was tacking on to the 1988 Housing Act the provision for a new housing quango called Tai Cymru (Housing for Wales). This quango amongst other things was responsible for funding housing associations. 
By funding these bodies Tai Cymru dramatically increased the number of social housing homes in Wales. But the very same Housing Act accelerated the right to buy. 
So whilst housing associations were building homes for rent those looking for home to rent were having a hard time getting a roof over their head. Why? Housing Associations and Councils stock was contracting as more were buying houses under the right to buy.
Incidentally on an historic note, Tai Cymru was scrapped by Ron Davies. One of the selling points for devolution was the bonfire of the quangos. Tai Cymru was put aflame in the first round. Other bonfires followed, but as they say that’s another story.
Now you’ll ask what’s the point of this history lesson now. 
Well it’s beginning to dawn on many, that many millions of young people will be excluded from owning their own homes. The banks and building societies after the banking crisis are being stricter in who they lend to and on what terms. They’re demanding that purchasers put down much larger chunks of their own cash into any house if they hope to get a mortgage. 
Hundred per cent mortgages are very much a thing of the past. The best many can hope for now is 90 per cent. Large deposits and uncertain job markets mean that many will never become owners. 
The young will be renters. And because of the cuts to the budgets of social housing providers, the bulk of the houses rented will be from private landlords. 
Already this sector has doubled in size in Wales these last ten-years. It is predicted that by 2025 nearly a third of all houses will be in the private sector. So the future is the private rented sector.
Now nothing wrong with that you say, that’s the norm in most of Europe. Sure. But in Europe there's a significant difference, in most European countries the law favour’s the tenant. But here? 
Well, that takes me back to Maggie Thatcher and the 1988 Housing Act. Mrs Thatcher was lobbied by private landlords about needing more freedom to get control of their properties. She duly obliged by creating short hold tenancies. Giving tenants little rights and making it easier for landlords to evict. These tenancies have now become the norm.  
So if the future is to be rented. Those renting should have homes of high standards and the tenants should have real security. So let the Assembly create it's own tenancy and rid Wales of Mrs Thatcher's legacy in housing.


  1. Sometimes I wonder who you are writing for. Your appreciation of Wales appears to differ somewhat from mine. I live in Wales, I love living in Wales, I have many friends in Wales. No, none are Welsh, I don't think I know a single person who would describe themselves as 'Welsh' but all, including me are 'of Wales'. I suspect my 'of Wales' is rather different to your 'Welsh' or 'of Cymru'.

    My Wales will one day be a strong, vibrant and independent nation. Your Wales keeps harking back to the begging bowl times of 'the Welsh'.

  2. Excellent post, Gareth. Thatcher's policies destroyed her very own utopian dream of a 'property owning democracy'. We'd better get used to renting being the future, it's already a big part of the present. But we must use devolution to make sure that the laws around renting are solid. Thatcher's legacy leaves us with either a threat, or an opportunity, depending in which way you look at it.

  3. Tai Cymru also brought in two major changes. 1/ Housing Associations were no longer allowed to buy existing properties. 2/ Tai Cymru wanted fewer but bigger housing associations, which resulted in 'cannibalism' and the start of building social housing in excess of local demand.