Minister to ‘use stick’ over housing delays

O’Sullivan says there is a ‘lack of urgency’

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan: “I’m meeting with the directors of housing to discuss the plan. If necessary I will direct them. What I want them to do is to have a system where homeless households are considered priority when it comes to housing allocations.”

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan: “I’m meeting with the directors of housing to discuss the plan. If necessary I will direct them. What I want them to do is to have a system where homeless households are considered priority when it comes to housing allocations.”

Wed, May 21, 2014, 01:01

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan will meet the directors of housing from all local authorities later today, as she begins driving a new Government-backed plan to end long-term homelessness by 2016.

Speaking to The Irish Times she said there was a “lack of urgency” on the part of some local authorities in tackling homelessness and she would be “using a stick” if she had to with some of them.

The Cabinet yesterday gave full support to an 80-point implementation plan to house 2,700 homeless families and individuals by 2016. The plan will see up to 2,000 properties owned by Nama as well other State-owned properties brought into use to house the homeless. It says the objectives can be achieved “within the existing envelope of resources” but adds this will become increasingly challenging as the number of homeless continues to increase.

As well as the establishment of a Social Housing Rental Service (SHRS) in Dublin – a one-stop-shop for landlords, local authorities and the homeless to “identify and manage” accommodation in the private rented sector – the Minister said there would be some new flexibility with regards to rent caps in the capital for families at risk of losing their tenancies.

Top of her agenda at today’s meeting with housing directors will be the fast-tracking of refurbishing and re-letting vacant housing units, or ‘voids’, as well as changes to housing allocation schemes. The Minister is concerned some local authorities are taking as long as 49 weeks to re-let voids. She also says homeless households are not being prioritised sufficiently by housing sections.

“I’m meeting with the directors of housing to discuss the plan. If necessary I will direct them. What I want them to do is to have a system where homeless households are considered priority when it comes to housing allocations,” she said.

She said when she recently announced the availability of €15 million for local authorities, to refurbish voids, “...for example Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown only looked [for funding] for one. It suggests a lack of urgency.”

Housing charities broadly welcomed the initiative but social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry described the Government’s plan as “pure fantasy”.

“I don’t believe this is going to eliminate homelessness,” he said. “I don’t believe there is a hope in hell we will eliminate homelessness by 2016. While I welcome some of these provisions - and if they happen they will make some difference - I think eliminating homelessness by 2016 is fantasy world.

“It is not going to work. First of all, they are seriously underestimating the number of homeless people. In the census of 2011, they had a category for homeless people for the first time and they identified 3,808 homeless people on that particular night. The numbers have certainly increased dramatically since 2011. I would estimate the number is in the region of 5,000 or more,” he said.

“I think the flaw in it is that it is an attempt to find a low cost solution to homelessness when there isn’t one. The second flaw is that we are in this mess because the Government withdrew from controlling local authority housing themselves and depended on the private sector to provide social housing. That failed and this relies very heavily on the private rental sector to soak up homelessness”.