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Merthyr Tydfil: HMO homeless issues

Merthyr Tydfil: HMO homeless issues

Merthyr Tydfil Civic Centre

Merthyr Tydfil Council is currently not meeting its legal duties on the short term accommodation for the homeless.

Councillors were told by the deputy chief executive of the “dilemma” that council is having in housing Merthyr Tydfil’s homeless in the short term.

A regeneration, public protection and housing scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday, November 16, discussed a report that highlighted the issues they were having finding suitable houses of multiple occupation (HMOs).

Changes made to homelessness legislation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic placed a legal duty on the council to provide temporary accommodation until affordable permanent accommodation can be secured leading to a significant increase in the amount of homelessness presentations since March 2020, the report said.

The main solution the council has been pursuing is the use of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs).

Officers have worked with D2PropCo in consultation with councillors to identify suitable properties for conversion into HMOs to help the council meet its responsibilities and reduce over reliance on “costly and inappropriate” B&B accommodation recently exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The problems with the HMO plan to address the short term issues

Since September 2020, 27 properties have been put forward to councillors for
consideration for inclusion as HMO with the council and D2PropCo but none have been delivered.

The reason properties have been discounted include that they are too close to pubs, that the local community would not be supportive, existing anti-social behaviour and fly tipping in the area and that they are too close to a local school.

The report said it has been difficult over the last year to identify more properties for use as HMOs because of properties being sold within days/weeks, the time consultation takes, some being deemed unsuitable for their areas and the length of the planning process.

The council has identified two potential new properties; one in Nantycoed, Troedyrhiw and another in Rocky Road, Penydarren.

Planning applications have been submitted to request approval for use as HMOs but four objections have been received by planning.

As a result, the application has now been called in by the planning committee for further consideration.

The council has tried to reassure residents that only those who have low or no support needs will be housed in HMOs but residents have still raised concerns, a council officer told the committee.

She said this does seem to be the best short term model although they appreciate the fears and reservations of residents are fair but that wherever they look to put such a model the same concerns are going to be raised.

No objections have been received in regard to the property in Troedyrhiw and the council is waiting for the planning decision.

Concern over statutory duties not being met

Deputy chief executive Alyn Owen said that at this point the council is not meeting its statutory duties in relation to the new legislation.

He said the only short term solution (the HMOs) they have has proved “very unpopular, is not working and is basically wasting our time.”

He said: “Obviously we’re going to have to look at an alternative because the plan we’ve got in place isn’t working.”

He said they’re looking at a supported hostel type model in the right places but that that’s not going to happen over night.

Mr Owen said: “It’s a dilemma. It’s a dilemma for us officers. It’s a dilemma for the community and it’s a very very real dilemma for this council.”

Speaking about using HMOs to house the homeless, Councillor Kevin O’Neill, the cabinet member for regeneration, public protection and housing said: “I just think in our condensed, cheek to jowl communities it’s difficult to keep one of those going.”

He added: “I was quite surprised how many things are coming down the track, how many solutions we’ve got.

“And I think it would be useful for this committee to have some sort of representation of that sequencing in the future.”

He said they’ve got the issue with 157 homeless presentations but the solutions are not on tap yet.

He added that HMOs are quick turnover but the long term solutions are unfortunately a little bit down the line.

Mr Owen said without the Welsh Government hardship fund they’d probably see an overspend in the housing department of between £2.2m and £2.8m.

Mr Owen said they need a diversity of accommodation and this was the reason they looked at private HMOs but with the issues they’ve had that’s taken a big chunk of their strategic approach away.

Mr Owen said: “It’s just a very difficult situation. It’s extremely difficult for members.

“It’s equally as difficult for us as officers because currently it’s the only solution we can put forward in the short term.”

Councillor Malcolm Colbran said: “I feel for officers on this. You are between a rock and a hard place on this. There aren’t going to be any easy solutions.”

The schemes the council is delivering or looking at to address the issue in the medium to long term

But Mr Long highlighted the effort and energy that’s going in to future developments with 109 properties in the pipeline.

Mr Long said: “That’s encouraging. It really really is encouraging.”

The social housing schemes that are live include the previous CAB Building which is being demolished to make way for eight units of affordable housing with five one-bed flats and three refurbished flats.

Plans for East Street in Dowlais include 10 units including six one-bed flats and our two-bed houses.

There are plans in Bryniau Road in Pant for 31 units of accommodation including five one-bed flats, 12 two-bed houses, two three-bed houses and two two-bed bungalows.

The St Tydfil’s site should see 31 units of accommodation with 14 one-bed flats, eight two-bed houses, four three-bed houses, three two-bed bungalows and two four-bed houses.

Lansbury Road would cater for 12 units of accommodation including eight one-bed flats, two two-bed houses and two two-bed bungalows.

The plans for Courtland Terrace in Penylan include six one-bed rooms of supported accommodation.

Greenwood Close is set to have space for seven units of accommodation with two one-bed flats and five two-bed bungalows and Walnut Way should have four units of accommodation made up of two and three-bed bungalows.

There are also reserve schemes including St Illtyds for 10 one-bed flats and Springfield Rise for 23 units of accommodation with 12 one-bed flats, nine two-bed houses and two three-bed houses.

The council took responsibility for the Glynmill Gypsy & Roma Traveller site in November 2020 which the it is working on a plan for subject to Welsh Government funding.

The council has also got funding in partnership with Merthyr Valleys Homes and a Private Rented Scheme (PRS) to deliver nine units with seven units sited
across two sites including two at Glasier Rd, Twynyrodyn and five at Honeysuckle Close, Gurnos.

A two bedroom property in Trevethick Street is going to undergo a refurbishment to create two one-bed flats.

Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association (MTHA) is looking for suitable areas of land to build a long term supported accommodation with up to five self-contained units.

Two properties have been identified as suitable for two additional units of accommodation for victims of domestic violence.

A building at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre in Gurnos will be turned into five self-contained flats.

The council is also exploring options of an extra care facility, the Land Release Fund from Welsh Government, empty properties and key strategic sites such as Llysfaen Residential Home, Marsh House and Penylan Guest House.

Words: Anthony Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter


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