CONWY’S new cabinet member for housing has vowed to try to resolve the county’s housing crisis and help young people get on the housing ladder.
Cllr Emily Owen, who is also the deputy leader, was appointed cabinet member for housing by re-elected leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey last month.
Originally from Bury, Cllr Owen ‘hopped on the train’ aged just 17 and moved to Conwy, a county where she had spent school summer holidays in her mum’s caravan.
Ten years on, Cllr Owen says she loves North Wales and wants to do everything she can to improve the housing situation for local people, both old and young.
Cllr Owen admitted she didn’t have immediate answers but said she had firm ideas about the areas she wants to improve over the next five years.
As a tourist area with a high proportion of elderly people, Conwy has a disproportionate gap between house prices and wages. As the tourist industry and care sector often pay lower wages, this situation is worsened by older people wanting to retire here, driving up house prices.
Conwy also has a homelessness crisis with over 1,600 waiting on the housing register – the fourth highest in Wales. Conwy also spent £2.5m on temporary accommodation for the homeless last year, double the figure of the previous year.
Cllr Owen says she realises the size of the task before her and has handed her notice in at her trade union job to concentrate on her role full-time.
“I’m really pleased to have secured this role (deputy leader) and really pleased to have secured the housing portfolio because I think there is a lot of stuff we can do within that for Conwy,” she said.
“House prices have shot up since COVID, and young people can’t get on the housing ladder, and then they are stuck in that ridiculous situation where they can’t get on the housing ladder and have to pay these crazy rent prices that would be way more than a mortgage, and that’s their options because they have to save for a whopping deposit.
“A lot of jobs in this area are in care and lower paid, and it is not right that somebody who is a carer is having to pay the majority of their wages towards their rent. The cost of living is getting ridiculous and is going to get worse in October. Everything is going up and up and up, and we need to make sure that doesn’t become the norm and something we just accept and people aren’t just working to pay their bills.”
“It is ridiculous at the minute. You’ve got people who are really, really struggling, and it will keep getting worse unless we do some out-of-the-box thinking and work out how we are going to tackle this.
“It needs to be a multi-prong approach, in my opinion, with housing. It needs to be so first-time buyers, however old they are, can actually get on the housing ladder because, at the moment, with housing shooting up, they can’t. We’ve also got loads of people in social housing on the waiting list. Rents are sky-high. The fact that there are food banks popping up left right and centre is not good. There is loads of stuff we can get our teeth into.
She added: “Some of it will need Welsh Government support in order to tackle it. We need to make sure people have got decent-paid, secure jobs.”
Cllr Owen also recognised many older people are struggling with the cost of living.
“It is not just housing for young people. You’ve got pensioners in Conwy having to choose between heating their homes and eating, and that is not right,” she said.
“I feel from speaking to older people there are a lot of older people who are feeling quite lonely and isolated. There are things we can be doing about that, small things that make a big difference, and it is those little things we can look at and ask are there some really easy solutions to this?”