Posted: Thu 18th Apr 2024

Airbnb expansion exacerbates housing woes for ex-offenders in Wrexham as Rob & Ryan dodge blame for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

Lack of accommodation in Wrexham contributes to issues for ex-offenders trying to find housing, however a ‘Rob and Ryan’ effect of AirBnb’s popping up was nullified as other areas report the same problems, a Westminster committee has heard.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has been examining the quality and availability of housing for prison leavers as it continues its inquiry into Prisons in Wales.

The committee heard from Tracy Hague, Head of Service (Housing) at Wrexham County Borough Council and Liza Ridge Housing Options and Allocations Lead at Wrexham County Borough Council as well as Stephanie Rogers-Lewis who is Operational Manager for Housing Need at Cardiff Council.

Many prisoners face significant problems accessing housing when they leave custody. The Committee has heard first-hand from prisoners in HMP Cardiff that accommodation can be unsuitable for those in recovery from alcohol and substance misuse, short-term or even nonexistent. This was also highlighted in a 2023 inspection of HMP Swansea, which found that a third of prisoners were either homeless or in transient accommodation on their first night of release.

The committee asked for comments from local council officers to help understand the challenges for prison leavers in Wrexham – as well as hearing from Cardiff.

Wrexham council officers related, “In terms of numbers for Wrexham in the last financial year, we had 120 requests for assistance and temporary accommodation and of those, we had repeat presentations from 21 individuals. So they’re not all new cases, sometimes there are individuals that come through as a result of recall or reoffending.

“We do have an issue in terms of stock within Wrexham county borough, in terms of secure accommodation and the use of temporary accommodation, and especially for single persons in terms of our waiting lists”

“Over 42% of our waiting list is demand for single person accommodation and that includes from the waiting list from our general waiting lists, not just from those who are leaving the secure estate. So we do have an issue with bricks and mortar, not so much with support services, we do have support services that we commissioned that can go to support those who who are leaving prisons to try and assist. But again, we cannot always guarantee that those who are released from prison turn up to present.

“So we may plan for someone to come to us, and they don’t turn up, though you can’t always guarantee that when we do the assessments, through compressing a pathway that those individuals will turn up. And again, sometimes we will go through the pathway with an individual, and we are notified that they don’t need accommodation. And that may fall down at the last minute.

Speaking on things falling apart and the council then having to sort the issue, they added on that last minute scenario, “Then we are having to try and source suitable accommodation for individuals, sometimes on the day of release, and that can cause a difficulty for us, especially when we’re having to adhere to license conditions, there may be an exclusion area that we can’t place an individual in a certain area of the city. So we have to look at that as well, and also their support networks. So there’s a combination of a lot of difficulties, really, that we do encounter when someone comes to through the door.”

The Chair asked “Have you seen a reduction in the overall number of properties available available for private rental in your local authority areas in recent years?”

As the Wrexham Officers were nodding, they responded first, “I refer to it as the Rob and Ryan effect” which baffled some members of the committee, however the link with the success of the football club was referenced which appeared to make the penny drop.

“We find a lot of our private landlords are now moving away from offering properties into the private rented sector and turning them into Airbnb, because they can get more money. Therefore, we’ve seen a huge decrease in the number of private sector accommodation that we can utilise.”

However, Rob and Ryan may not be the reason for the Airbnb surge, as similar issues were reported to the committee in Pembrokeshire and Cardiff, both areas that the Co-Chairmen probably don’t frequent.

Airbnb is a platform that connects people who want to rent out their homes or accommodations with travelers seeking temporary lodging. Locally rooms or houses are available for short term rent, with several ‘Wrexham AFC’ themed for football tourists.

It is argued Airbnb’s rapid growth has contributed to housing affordability issues in the UK. By enabling property owners to profit from short-term rentals, it reduces the availability of long-term housing options, driving up rental prices and limiting housing supply for local residents. This has sparked concerns about displacement, gentrification, and the erosion of community cohesion in popular tourist destinations – however this appears to have been one of the first times it has been linked to lack of accommodation for ex offenders in Wales.

Top pic: The hybrid meeting.

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