Cabinet agrees on funding to tackle homelessness

Noonan says €100m already set aside for initiatives

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan announcing the new funding scheme to tackle the homelessness crisis today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan announcing the new funding scheme to tackle the homelessness crisis today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tue, May 20, 2014, 21:21

Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan has said €35 million is available to bring vacant units up to living standard for homeless people and has announced a further €25 million in funding for capital projects.

She said her plan approved by Cabinet today will deliver 2,700 units specifically for homeless people by the end of 2016. Ms O’Sullivan said she was pleased to receive the full support of her Cabinet colleagues for the plan.

She said the Government was committed to ending involuntary long-term homelessness by the end of 2016.

“Recent figures show that there are 127 sleeping rough in Dublin and 142 families in hotel accommodation,” she said this afternoon.

She said the €35 million funding would produce some 1,750 new housing units over the coming months.

“A number of priority areas have been identified in the plan including the accommodation of rough sleepers, the management and use of vacant properties, the practical application of local authority housing allocations; and the timely and appropriate utilisation of Nama units,” she added.

Asked at a separate event about funding for the plan, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said the Government had already set aside €100 million for new housing initiatives. “The finances have been allocated already. When Brendan Howlin announced his stimulus package he announced €50 million for housing, social housing, and another €50 million was allocated as well, earlier on in the year,” Mr Noonan told reporters in Dublin. “So there’s significant monies available, it’s a case of people organising themselves the accommodation that’s necessary.”

Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen has already dismissed the report as a pre-election “political cop out”. Mr Cowen said the Government parties described the plan as “an effort to get them beyond this week which I don’t expect the public to buy”.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that rent allowance caps may be broken in extreme cases when families are at risk of losing their homes.

A new protocol is expected to be agreed between Dublin City Council, the Department of Social Protection and the housing charity Threshold under which community welfare officers will be asked to extend their discretion and raise rent caps in extreme cases.

No change in legislation is required for this move to increase flexibility for struggling families. It is understood some consideration is being given to drafting legislation to ban landlords from refusing rent allowance tenants.

However, there is concern that it could be ineffective if some landlords simply continued to select non-rent allowance tenants in favour of those in receipt of the benefit.

Rent supplement is paid to people living in private rented accommodation who cannot provide for the cost of their accommodation from their own resources.

The Government report, titled Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness to December 2016, describes the escalating numbers of homeless families as an “emergency crisis”.

Fr Peter McVerry, a long-time campaigner on behalf of the homeless, has warned that the issue of homelessness could “bring the Government down”.

There has been a stark increase in the number of families presenting to homelessness service after hitting a rent arrears problem. Meanwhile, rents are rising and accommodation supplies are tightening.

Earlier, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said all state agencies would be asked to contribute property for use as emergency housing, where appropriate in response to the current crisis.

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