No need to put right to housing in Constitution, Minister says

Simon Community says demand for emergency accommodation up sharply in first half of year

Minister of State for Housing Damien English (left) with Niamh Randall and  Dermot Kavangh of the Simon Community at the launch of the charity’s  2017 annual report. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times.

Minister of State for Housing Damien English (left) with Niamh Randall and Dermot Kavangh of the Simon Community at the launch of the charity’s 2017 annual report. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times.

 

There are no plans afoot to recognise housing as a fundamental right in the Constitution as such a guarantee is not needed, the Minister of State for Housing has said.

Damien English also said the Government had to rely on the private sector to deliver housing in the short-term, but that landlords found to be abusing the system would face hefty penalties.

He confirmed that property owners who increase rents above the 4 per cent cap introduced in rent pressure zones could face fines of up to €30,000.

“(Minister for Housing) Eoghan Murphy is very clear on this, there is evidence out there that the new legislation being brought forward in the rent pressure zones is not being adhered to and not being enforced and we have to strengthen the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to be able to enforce this and to get the message out that if we put laws in place, we want them to be obeyed,” he said.

Mr English was speaking at the publication of the Simon Community’s annual report in Dublin on Tuesday. It shows that more than 13,000 people availed of services from the homeless charity last year, an increase of 60 per cent over the last two years.

Pressure

Dermot Kavanagh, chair of the Simon Communities, said there was increased pressure on services in “every single corner of the country”.

Niamh Randall, national spokeswoman for the charity, said it saw “significant increases” in numbers availing of its services in the first six months of this year. She said that 1,218 people accessed the charity’s emergency accommodation services between January and June of this year, compared to a total of 968 for all of last year.

Mr English said the Government’s policies “are not based on relying on the private sector forever” to respond to housing shortages but that doing so was necessary in the short-term while the five-year State housing plan Rebuilding Ireland was implemented.

“We’re doing that through HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and through other schemes as well but there is an end to that where you’ll see in year 3½, four and five /[OF THE PLAN/] the requirement of the private sector goes down each year, that we’ll get back to relying on our own housing stock.”

‘Quicker ways’

Mr English also said the only way to solve the homelessness crisis is to provide new homes and not by making housing a fundamental right in the Constitution.

“We don’t need legislation for that, we just need newer and quicker ways of delivering houses but it does take time,” he said.

However, Ms Randall said housing must be recognised as a fundamental human right in the Constitution.

“We need the State, in conjunction with local authorities and approved housing bodies, to build social and affordable housing across all tenure types quickly within sustainable communities nationwide; to prevent more people from becoming homeless; and to address the complex or multiple needs that can be a cause or consequence of homelessness,” Ms Randall added.

“There must be a concerted focus on preventing people from losing the homes that they have. Over 5,700 people were supported by our prevention, early intervention and advice services in 2017, however the flow into homelessness continues.”