The Government will meet its overall target for social housing delivery this year, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said, but he wouldn’t be drawn on whether the target for newly built social homes would be met.
Speaking on Tuesday at the site of a refurbishment being carried out by the Peter McVerry trust in Dublin, he said the Government would do its “level best” to meet its housing targets this year.
“We’ve targets that are exacting, we’re going to do our level best to actually hit overall social housing delivery of about 10,500 this year which I believe we will attain, which will be a very significant step forward,” he said. Asked about comments from his Cabinet colleague Michael McGrath – who suggested that only 8,000 would be built – Mr O’Brien said the final quarter would see significant numbers of homes delivered and he did not want to speculate.
“We’d set a target of 24,600 new homes ... and we’re going to exceed that target significantly, even though we’ve had a difficult year,” he said.
He suggested that previous ministers for housing had underdelivered on social housing. “We’re dealing with 10-12 years of under delivery, but thankfully we’re seeing a step change this year in relation to housing delivery.
“The situation is far from perfect, I’m acutely aware of the challenges that are there, but I’m also absolutely confident that the housing for all plan is taking hold, gaining momentum, and is flexible and robust enough to be able to deal with a lot of the challenges we have,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said there was “no silver lining” for housing to the prospect of a reduction in workers in the tech sector. The influx of highly-paid workers from overseas has been blamed for affecting affordability and limiting housing access.
“I don’t see any silver lining to any job losses; there are people there who are obviously very concerned about their jobs, the tech sector is under pressure, there’s no question about that. Thankfully our economy in Ireland is robust,” he said. He said he would bring landmark legislation reforming the planning system to Cabinet before Christmas.
The Peter McVerry Trust worked with more than 10,000 people in 2021, an increase of almost 30 per cent on the previous year, the homeless charity said on Tuesday.
Its 2021 annual report, launched by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, sheds light on the operation of its services during Covid-19 and the continuation of its housing first approach.
Last year marked a decade of the trust’s involvement in delivering accommodation through that model which provides housing and intensive wraparound supports to people experiencing homelessness. By the end of last year, it had 680 active housing first tenancies across 14 local authorities.
“The housing first model involves giving [people] a safe, secure home and then supporting them to address their issues,” Fr McVerry said in the report.
“This model has proved to be very successful, as some 86 per cent of those homeless people, with the right level of support, continue to maintain their home indefinitely.
“Although we provide hostel accommodation for almost 1,000 people every night, they still remain homeless. In 2021, we were able to give 1,200 homeless people the key to their own door.”
The Housing First National Implementation Plan for 2022-2026 was launched last December. It aims to provide an additional 1,319 supported tenancies over the next five years.
Last year the trust was active in 28 local authorities delivering almost 200 new social homes, its highest level to date. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity helped thousands affected by homelessness to self-isolate and supported more than 1,500 vulnerable participants to get vaccinated.
“The stability offered by placements at Covid-19 facilities gave staff time to work with people on the issues that led them to homelessness and allowed rapid access to treatment for mental health or addiction issues,” said its chief executive Pat Doyle.
About 8,000 people, both homeless and others seeking asylum who were living in communal direct provision centres, were supported in self-isolating hotel accommodation.
With the evolution of homelessness responses, the charity has continued to push for a “radical overhaul” of the type of hostel accommodation typically offered.
Although some are of an excellent standard, Fr McVerry said, others are very poor.
“Sharing a room with several other people, usually strangers, some actively using drugs during the night, some with serious mental health problems, is unacceptable,” he said.
“Providing overcrowded and unsafe accommodation sends a message to homeless people, and the message is, ‘this is what society thinks you are worth’, thus undermining their self-esteem and dignity.”
The charity has repeated its calls for the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) to be tasked with hostel inspections similar to those it conducts in nursing homes.
Last year the trust reported €53.3 million in income (72 per cent of which was State funding), a decrease from €56.5 million in 2020.