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Housing ‘fundamental’ to achieving our goals, says Huw Lewis launching White Paper

Ensuring everyone has a home that is both in good condition and affordable is a fundamental part of a fair and supportive society. This is the message from the Minister for Housing Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis, as he officially launches his Housing White Paper.

The White Paper, published today, sets out a bold and ambitious programme of legislative and non-legislative action to tackle homelessness, to improve conditions in the private rented sector and to deliver more homes, as well as proposals for tenancy reform, which will benefit tenants and landlords alike. It also sets out how the Welsh Government aims to end family homelessness in Wales by 2019, ensuring better help is available for those who become homeless.

The action set out in the White Paper aims to tackle issues within housing sector as a whole, rather than adopting the piecemeal approach that has been taken in the past, in which traditional social housing has dominated. While social housing remains a major commitment, a more comprehensive approach is also outlined.

The White Paper comes on top of the clear and challenging targets announced last week for making at least 12,500 more homes available by building new affordable homes and bringing empty properties back into use.

The Minister said,

“This is about much more than putting a roof over someone's head. Housing issues affects people's health and well being and their ability to find and keep a job. For children, it is the foundation for the rest of their lives. In short, housing is fundamental to delivering many of our goals as a progressive Government.

“This White Paper reflects our strong commitment to equality and social justice and our desire to do all we can to help people to meet their housing needs. We will be ambitious, innovative and collaborative to deliver real change to help reduce poverty, tackle the inequalities that exist between some of our communities, increase skills and jobs, tackle climate change and help improve health and well-being.

“I look forward to working across Government, with all political parties and stakeholders, to make these proposals a reality and to realise our shared goal of making a real difference to people’s lives.”

The Welsh Government’s commitment to social housing remains firm but we are also building a more comprehensive approach, grounded in new and innovative ways of helping people to meet their housing needs and new ways of financing this. This includes a much greater emphasis on co-operative housing, which fits well with Wales' strong social history.

Responding to some of the challenges requires new legislation, but the White Paper also sets out a robust programme of non-legislative action we will take to help people to meet their housing needs.

Other proposals set out in the White Papers include:

  • Strengthening the strategic role of local authorities to identify and address local housing needs,
  • Tackling 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,
  • Increased focus on tackling empty homes through the national “Houses into Homes” programme and other programmes,
  • Withdrawal from the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy after concluding negotiations with HM Treasury,
  • Effective regional collaboration on housing functions and services, including the Supporting People programme,
  • Improving the conditions for individuals and families who rent their home from private landlords by improving the practices of landlords, lettings agents and managing agents. Good private sector landlords will benefit from these changes as it will not allow bad practice to continue.

A programme of tenancy reform, via a separate Bill, within the lifetime of this Assembly will also be taken forward. It will help people find homes that suit their needs as their lives and circumstances change, by making it easier to move between tenancies and landlords. Because existing tenancy law is detailed and complex and must be tackled in consultation with all those in the housing sector, particularly tenants, this Bill will be brought forward after the Housing Bill.

The Minister continued,

“The £5m already found for our empty properties initiative, demonstrates our commitment to making housing a priority in the coming years despite difficult financial settlements. Further evidence of this commitment is that I can today announce additional resources are being made available to support the Welsh Housing Bond and higher investment in the empty properties initiative.

“The programme aims to make a difference to people and communities. It's about much more than a home.”

The White Paper is open for consultation until 17 August 2012 with the aim of introducing the Bill in autumn 2013.