Coveney Housing Plan over reliant on private sector

Posted: July 25, 2016 in Housing, Uncategorized

Simon Coveney has delivered his Housing Action Plan early, 74 days after taking office. The 114 page report sets out the Governments plan for tackling the perfect storm that has engulfed our dysfunctional housing system.

Like its predecessor its commits to ‘meeting the housing need’ of all those on social housing waiting lists in six years. Unfortunately up to up to 73% of this will be through state subsidised private rental houses – 84,000 Housing Assistance Payment tenancies, 4,000 Rental Accommodation Scheme tenancies and up to 10,000 Long Term Lease tenancies.

This over reliance on the private sector to meet the needs of those locked out of the private housing market lies at the very heart of our housing and homelessness crisis – and yet despite all the evidence Minister Coveney is unwilling to abandon this contradictory and discredited approach.

Interestingly this aspect of the plan was played down in the press launch and subsequent press coverage of the Plan.

Instead the headline announcement last Tuesday was the commitment to spend €5.35bn over six years to ‘supply’ 47,000 ‘social houses’.

Minister Coveney has repeatedly claimed that this represents a €2.2bn increase on Alan Kelly’s plan which will provide an additional 12,000 homes.

Both figures are incorrect and leave the Minister open to the charge of massaging the figures to make the report appear more ambitious than it actually is.

The Kelly Plan proposed an average annual expenditure of €633m over six years. The Coveney Plan proposes an annual average spend of €891m over six years. The difference between the two is €258m per year totalling €1.54bn over six years.

That increase is welcome but is €660m short of the Minister’s headline claim, not an insignificant sum.

Minister Coveney is correct when he says this will deliver 47,000 units. But he is wrong to describe all of these as social. As many as 10,000 will be private units leased by the state for 10 to 20 years and could be removed from social use at the end of the lease term.

Does this matter? Absolutely. Leased private units are bad for tenant security of tenure, bad for building sustainable communities and represent bad value for money for the taxpayer.

Social Housing, if it is to mean anything, means non-market housing stock owned by Local Authorities or Housing Associations.

The end result will see an increase in the social housing stock of approximately 6,000 units a year for six years. This is 40% short of the 10,000 unit per year target recommended as a minimum by the Dáil Housing and Homelessness Committee report published in June.

However the most concerning aspect of the Coveney Plan is the low level of capital investment in social housing earmarked for 2017.

Family homelessness has increased by a shocking 200% in the last two years. Tonight 2,206 children will sleep in inappropriate emergency accommodation, up 70% on last year. Rising home repossessions, spiralling rents and the absence of social housing are forcing more and more families into homelessness every single day. Meanwhile the number of single homeless people, many with complex needs, remains unacceptably high.

Despite this, Government is proposing to increase capital spending in social housing in 2017 by a mere €150m. While the increase is to be welcomed it is nowhere near enough to tackle the most acute end of the crisis.

It is hard to see how Minister Coveney will meet his target of ensuring that hotel accommodation is used to house homeless families in only limited circumstances by mid-2017.

If he achieves this I will be the first to publicly congratulate him. However given the prominence of this commitment in his Plan it will be the first benchmark against which the public can judge Coveney’s success or failure as a Minister.

Beyond these headline announcements the Housing Action Plan has both merits and omissions.

To Coveney’s credit the Plan treats the housing system as a whole and seeks to address the intertwined relationships between housing stock management and supply in both the private and public sectors.

There are important commitments with respect to families and children experiencing homelessness and those with mental health issues. There is also some, though limited movement, on Traveller accommodation. However the report say little on families made homelessness due to domestic violence and nothing at all on those unable to exit direct provision post granting of residency status.

The Plan sidesteps difficult but urgent decisions that need to be made to fix our broken private rental sector. Rent certainty, security of tenure and the tax treatment of landlords are all kicked into future discussions on strategy and legislation.

The report also seems to indicate that the Government is rowing back on its Programme for Government commitments to introduce a new distressed mortgage resolution system.

The sections on increasing private sector supply, making private housing more affordable, addressing the 189,000 vacant units across the state and increasing the supply of student accommodation contain a mixture of good and bad ideas and already announced initiatives.

Simon Coveney’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is a better effort than Alan Kelly’s Social Housing Strategy 2020 but it is no where near good enough. It remains locked in a policy framework that has failed to tackle the multiple problems in our housing system because in large part it is the cause of those problems.

I have no doubt about Minister Coveney’s desire to fix our broken housing system. But sincerity is not the same as good policy and while the Action Plan is clearly motivated by the former its great weakness is the absence of the latter.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Business Post on 24.7.16

  1. ABhoysVoice says:

    Good piece.

    Sadly, the housing action plan just joins the list of essential needs being left to private (profit seeking?) hands to solve. We see it in so many other areas of essential needs. Mental health being another, left in hands of charities to fill the void left in a much needed service.

    Why the solution to our social housing needs means finding a “solution” for the private housing market, I do not know.

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