HIGH mortgage and rent payments fuelled by the housing boom in Wales has forced thousands of families out of their homes and on to the streets.
Experts said yesterday the huge rise in house prices throughout Wales has helped to create a society of haves and have nots, behind a massive rise in homelessness.
There has been a 50% increase in the number of households accepted as homeless in Wales in the last year.
Almost half of these are families with children who have fallen victim to the surge in house prices across Wales.
Many are now living in cramped one-room accommodation in unsuitable bed and breakfasts as local authorities struggle to find suitable homes for the 9,147 households who have found themselves unintentionally homeless.
And experts last night warned homelessness can happen to anyone, including the unassuming middle classes who believe their jobs and homes are secure.
Liz Derrick, communications manager for Shelter Cymru, said, "Rising house prices, the house boom and the lack of affordable housing, as well as the right to buy scheme which has decreased local authority housing stock, has contributed to the number of homeless in Wales.
"It is families and people like you and I who are at risk of losing our home or being evicted - it can happen to anyone."
The massive increases in homelessness have prompted urgent calls from politicians for immediate investment in social housing to prevent thousands more becoming homeless in the face of the unrelenting growth in house prices.
It is thought that today's younger generation are the first since the industrial revolution to experience poorer housing conditions than their parents - Plaid Cymru said £3bn is urgently needed to improve housing standards throughout Wales.
Leanne Wood, Plaid's social justice spokeswoman, said, "This rise in homeless figures is totally unacceptable - more people are homeless than at any time since New Labour took office in 1997.
"There are a number of reasons for this rise - the rocketing house prices and the lack of social housing because of the Conservative's 'right to buy' legislation.
"We need a massive investment into social housing."
And Peter Black, spokesman for social justice for the Liberal Democrats, added, "Most of the causes of this increase in homelessness are economic, specifically rising house prices, and a shortage of social housing.
"I am not convinced that local councils are investing in facilities to deal with it, while the Assembly Government is failing to provide the resources needed to build new homes."
House prices in Wales rose by 31% to an average of £126,205 in the last year. In the same period the number of households accepted as homeless and in priority need of accommodation increased from 6,965 to 9,147 - a further 5,370 were judged not to be a priority.
The main reasons given by households for the loss of their homes was that their parents or family were no longer able to accommodate them and that mortgage and rent arrears or the end of a tenancy agreement had resulted in the loss.
A "significant minority" of households accepted as homeless were in that position because of violence or harassment.
Mick McGuire, director of service at the Principality Building Society and the deputy chair of the Council of Mortgage Lenders Cymru, said, "There is no doubt that house prices have been rising very fast in recent years and that has made it increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to get on the ladder.
"This is helping to exacerbate the homelessness problem.
"It is unsustainable that house prices should continue to rise because it has created a society of haves - those who own a house and are becoming more wealthy - and the have nots who cannot afford to buy.
"We must free up some Assembly Government money to build more social housing to house the homeless and we must also free up more land and planning permission to build more affordable homes for first time buyers.
"Part of what drives house prices is the cost of the land - if the land was cheaper, house prices would be lower."
Ms Derrick added, "While we have a national homeless strategy to address homelessness we also need to see more investment to allow local authorities to provide services and support for those families and to find alternatives to bed and breakfast accommodation."