FRESH legislation is needed so Conwy council can help home more than 500 homeless families.
The issue was discussed at a Conwy County Borough Council cabinet meeting in which councillors aired their frustration about a shortage of affordable homes and available rented accommodation.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Goronwy Edwards said a working group had been set up between the council and the Welsh Government to try and address the housing shortage.
It was discussed that homelessness was not just about people who sleep rough on streets but also those much larger numbers of single people and families in temporary accommodation, including those who ‘sofa surf’.
But Conwy wants a change in legislation so they can tax empty homes at a higher rate – freeing up properties – and make it more difficult for home owners to apply for planning permission for a change of use to holiday accommodation.
Currently, by switching from a residential property to a business, home owners can qualify for some business rate relief whilst more homes are lost to tourism.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless people and families is expected to rise following the end of the furlough scheme and the removal of the Universal Credit Top Up.
In 2019/20 there were 548 homeless ‘households’ in Conwy and 523 in 2020/21.
Cllr Goronwy Edwards is part of the working group and wants a change in legislation.
“We all know the problems. Everybody knows the issues. We are continuously lobbying,” he said.
“Hopefully this cross-party group will put some pressure on the Welsh Government to come up with the resources to enable the local authority to tackle the situation. I’m particularly frustrated. We have a Labour Welsh Assembly Government. They’ve been there for many years now.
“You expect the Labour Government would be more in tune with the needs of homeless people than anybody, but they have the ability now to change legislation to increase taxation against second homes and empty properties, and they are sat there basically and have left us to tackle the problem.”
Cllr Edwards said he would write to Welsh Government and request additional funding.
“So, certainly, I’m more than happy to write to the Welsh Assembly Government,” he said.
“But I would implore them and all parties to lobby them to get on with the job and give us the powers so we can tackle the housing crisis. It’s not just about building houses.
“It is about giving us the powers so that existing empty houses and houses that have been sitting there for many years are utilised for the best of their ability. So give us more money by all means, but give us the legislative powers to tackle the crisis in Conwy and across Wales.”
Conwy’s leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey warned of a £2million council overspend on homelessness.
The council will now write to the Welsh Government requesting extra funds and asking for new powers so they can tackle the number of empty homes.