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Housing

Wales is paying landlords to give up their empty properties to homeless people

A new £30million fund will be used to pay rents to landlords who give up their second homes to people facing homelessness.

Jonathan Lewis, from Swansea, says being given a secure home has given him confidence. Image: Welsh government

Landlords in Wales are being urged to give up their empty second homes for use as affordable housing under a new Welsh government scheme to tackle homelessness.

A £30million fund will allow councils to offer guaranteed rents to landlords in their area, set at local housing allowance rates. Owners will be asked to give up their empty homes for a minimum of five years, but ideally up to 20.

The plan, part of the Ending Homelessness Action Plan, will also make improvements to the energy efficiency and comfort of the houses given up so the landlords will get their homes back in a better state.

“Frankly, we think it’s a scandal that people haven’t got decent homes in a rich country like ours, and were determined to do something about it,” Julie James, the Welsh climate change minister, told the Big Issue. “I think that’s a rather different attitude to the present UK Government I’m afraid.”

Pilot schemes across Wales have had good uptake so far, said James, who added that part of the challenge is to convince landlords to take part – with the aim that homes are eventually returned to landlords in a better state.

“It’s about us helping the landlord bring the property up to standard. So if we have landlords with very poorly insulated properties and so on, we will be helping to bring it up to standard,” said James.

Speaking to mark the launch of the Ending Homelessness Action Plan, James said the Welsh government is aiming to make homelessness “rare, brief, and unrepeated” in Wales.

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“We do have a second home issue in Wales, but not in the kind of international investor market that we do in London,” James said.

The plan wants to help people like Jonathan Lewis, a 42 year old who slept on sofas and in his car for extended periods before being provided a secure house.

“I’ve never had a house, I’ve never had my own property – it’s given me the push I needed – it’s given me something I don’t want to lose. Someone has put that trust in me, that I’m worthy enough to have something decent in life,” said Lewis.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the scheme was a way to continue the progress Wales had made on homelessness during the pandemic.

“This plan rightly recognises that the work done to ensure no one is left out of support must continue, as must the joined-up approach across services in ending homelessness as a public health issue,” he said.

“It shows how we can put the measures in place to prevent homelessness wherever possible and respond as quickly as possible when people lose their homes.”

Liz Green, a co-author of ‘No place like home?’, a new report on the impact of homelessness, said security in housing had a clear positive impact on physical and mental health.

“During times of uncertainty, such as in the Covid-19 pandemic, a home can provide a secure and stable base for individuals and households in order to help them live and work through and ultimately recover from the pandemic and its effects,” she said.

The launch of the project comes after a new report found almost all local authorities in Wales are expecting a rise in the number of renters needing support for homelessness this winter.

Of Wales’ 22 local authorities, 21 told charity Crisis that they expect evictions will see them called on to provide support. And two-thirds of local authorities are braced for homeowners to need assistance due to repossessions.

As part of the Stop Mass Homelesness campaign, which is calling for urgent action to prevent rising homelessness this winter, The Big Issue revealed failing to cover rent arrears could cost the government £2.6bn.

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