Housing Committee demands Radical Action from Minister Coveney

Posted: June 20, 2016 in Housing, Uncategorized

The Dáil Housing and Homeless Committee has called on Government to increase the stock of social housing by 50,000 units over the next five years. This would require a trebling of the numbers of units to be provided under current government plans.

Social Housing 2020, launched by the then Minister Alan Kelly in 2014, committed to the provision of 35,000 social housing units over six years. However at least a third of these units would be privately owned and leased by the state.

A generous interpretation of current Government plan would suggest that the increase in social housing stock would be at most 20,000 units, or 3000 per year. Last year the total increase in stock was 1,991 units.

Members of the cross party Dáil Housing and Homeless Committee were unanimous in the view that the over reliance on subsidising private sector units to meet social housing need was at the heart of our current housing and homeless crisis.

Meeting the housing need of the 130,000 households on the housing waiting-lists including the 4000 adults and 2000 children who are homeless demands a radical shift in policy in favour of direct state provision of homes.

Providing 10,000 real social housing units a year would cost €1.8bn. This years capital investment in social housing is a paltry €405m.

To fund this ambitious programme of acquisitions, refurbishments and new builds the Committee made three recommendations.

Government must provide the maximum level of exchequer funding in the capital programme. Additional investment must come through off balance sheet borrowing. The considerable resources available from the Housing Finance agency, the Strategic Investment Fund, the Irish League of Credit Unions and Irish Pension Funds must be mobilised.

The Committee also called on the Government to urgently request flexibility from the European Commission on the application of the Fiscal Rules for investment in tackling the housing crisis.

The Committee was also conscious of the lengthy delays that currently hamper the delivery of social housing. Planning, approval, procurement and tendering all need to be fast tracked to reduce the current 18 month delivery time frame.

A new Housing Procurement Agency, located within the existing Housing Agency, and with staff from the Departments of Housing and Finance and the NTMA would help drive this new social housing programme.

Taken together these measures can deliver the largest expansion of public housing in the history of the state and would rapidly reduce the level of homelessness and housing need.

Alongside these supply measures the Committee also made significant recommendations to reduce the flow of households into homelessness including linking rents to an index such as inflation; raising rent supplement and housing assistance payment levels to reflect market rents; strengthening security of tenure in the private rental sector by making 4 year tenancies the norm and exploring 10 year and life time tenancies; introducing a moratorium on home repossessions; and strengthening tenant rights in repossessed buy-to-let properties.

There was also considerable discussion about increasing the supply of private housing through tackling the large number of vacant units and reducing the costs of development.

In both instances the Committee felt that the Housing Agency should drive the policy response. The Agency has already produced a detailed report on the vacant stock and the Committee endorsed their policy recommendations. The Agency should be tasked with producing an independent audit of all-in construction costs in the private sector and make recommendations to government on how to make homes more affordable.

A significant number of presentations and submissions to the committee were made by people experiencing homelessness and housing need and statutory and voluntary sector homeless service providers and advocacy groups.

The Committee made a large number of recommendations across a range of areas focusing in meeting the housing needs of specific groups including adults and children experiencing domestic violence, young people leaving state care and other institutions, families exiting Direct Provision, people experiencing addiction or mental health issues and Travellers.

The strength of the report lies in the fact that all but one of our 14 members signed up to the final recommendations. There is now strong support across the political spectrum for greater state involvement in the provision of social housing, the regulation of the private rental sector and targeted measures to meet the housing needs of those most neglected by past policies.

Minister Coveney has acknowledged that there is a crisis in our housing system. He has promised to be bold and take risks. The Dáil Housing and Homeless Committee have given him a road map out of the cul-de-sac of existing Government housing policy.

His Action Plan on Housing, due in August, will be the first real test of whether his Government is serious about new politics and more importantly about providing homes for the 4000 adults and 2000 children who will tonight sleep in emergency accommodation.

This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on 19.6.16

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