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 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.
Speaking as he arrived for the Cabinet meeting, Mr Howlin said all State agencies would be asked to contribute property for use as emergency housing, where appropriate.
But he added: “Not all property will be a suitable place to put families or to ask families to reside even on a temporary basis but there will be nothing excluded from the comprehensive effort to ensure that everybody has a roof over their heads. It’s an absolute priority.”
Also speaking as he arrived for the meeting, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said: “We’re going to look at every option. We do know that we have a serious housing problem.”
“I think the key thing is to increase the supply of homes that are available and there are a number of things that (Ms O’Sullivan) is already doing.
“She has made money available to bring back into use many of the houses that have been boarded up, many of them for a very long time. Secondly, we are also addressing the houses that weren’t completed during the boom. About 70 per cent of them have now been completed but there are still some of them that have to be completed.
“We’ve been looking at a range of other options to ensure that homes are provided for people as quickly as possible.”
He said the Government was also conducting a review of the rent allowance.
“But what we have to do is to make sure that there are actual units of accommodation available. Somebody who’s in need of a home, it’s a home that has to be provided. The quickest way that we can do that is, first of all, to bring back into use, all of those boarded-up houses that are around the country. I think that’s causing a lot of frustration to people who are in need of a home and are constantly passing a house that’s boarded up.”
The crisis was acknowledged by Government Ministers yesterday, with Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte saying: “There is a housing problem.”
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said boarded-up former local authority housing would be put back into use and other “concrete reforms” would be moved out. He acknowledged that the rent supplement situation had run into difficulties as the market had got “tighter”.
Commenting this morning on the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, Mr Gilmore said it showed that Labour was “in contention for two European seats” in Friday’s European Parliament election.
“In Dublin it’s clear that Emer Costello is competing directly with Fianna Fáil for a seat in the European Parliament.
“In the local elections I think that people right across this country do know that, when it comes to local issues, nobody can be relied on better than the Labour Party to deal with issues of planning local amenities. I believe that will be reflected on Friday.
On speculation that Labour colleagues want him to move out of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Gilmore said: “Issues relating to composition of Government and who holds what job, that’s something for after the election and right now our main focus is to ensure that we get jobs for those who don’t have them.”