Housing strategy a plan for ‘squeezed middle’, says Minister

Ó Broin claims Government’s proposals not ambitious, honest, or committed to delivery

 Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien hit out at the Social Democrats, saying ‘I can’t think of anything the Social Democrats haven’t opposed in some way or other’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien hit out at the Social Democrats, saying ‘I can’t think of anything the Social Democrats haven’t opposed in some way or other’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government’s Housing for All strategy “is a plan for the squeezed middle” to give them an opportunity to buy their own homes and to help “those who need it”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said “it will ramp up State building of social homes to help eliminate homelessness and address waiting lists”.

The Minister was speaking as he opened a two-day debate on the strategy he launched last month stating that “we need to be ambitious, honest and committed to delivery”.

But Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said he could not think of “three less appropriate words” for the strategy, “a heavily-padded document”.

He claimed it was not ambitious; he did not believe it was honest “certainly not if it is claiming to tackle the decades of failed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing policy”.

And he did not believe “this Government is committed to the kind of fundamental policy change that would be required to meet the housing needs of working families”.

In his speech, Mr O’Brien took a swipe at Sinn Féin who have trenchantly and continuously criticised Government policy. He said “we can’t let one party’s perfect be the enemy of the common good or put ideology above pragmatism.

“We won’t get out of the housing crisis by driving into an ideological cul de sac.”

Insisting that both the public and private sectors had to be used to deal with the housing crisis, he said “Sinn Féin opposed the LDA, [Land Development Agency], opposed Help to Buy, opposed any private land initiatives and opposed over 5,000 homes in Dublin city alone”.

He also hit out at the Social Democrats, saying “I can’t think of anything the Social Democrats haven’t opposed in some way or other”.

Defending the Government’s approach he said the Opposition needed “to reflect on what they are offering beyond soundbites, hypocrisy and ideological dead ends”.

But Mr Ó Broin said “what has become a feature of this Government is the ever-growing gap between the rhetoric of Ministers”, particularly Mr O’Brien, “and the reality for working people on the ground trying to secure appropriate and affordable accommodation”.

Pointing to remarks by the Minister in The Irish Times that he did not accept that the housing market was out of control, Mr Ó Broin said “rents are now higher than they were at the peak of the Celtic Tiger.

“House prices are not far behind that peak. More than 100,000 households are dependent on rent subsidies. Homelessness is rising again, and, in many parts of the State, waiting times for social housing are between 10 and 14 years.”

The Dublin Mid-West TD said the Minister “is wedded to a particular view of housing policy that believes the private sector can meet the overwhelming majority of social and affordable housing need”.

Mr Ó Broin said he wanted private builders to build as many homes as possible and private developers to develop as many homes as possible, “but I also want there to be a level of direct investment in public housing on public land that will not be contained in this plan”.

He claimed the €4 billion figure for investment “is a fiction” and when the budget is announced the figure will be so much lower “that he will be found out”.

Labour’s Duncan Smith said “Fianna Fáil builds houses. It has the relationships with the people to build houses. Our concerns are how affordable they will be, the reliance on the private sector and what the Minister will do for renters.”

He said a “fundamental flaw in Housing for All is that there is no definition of affordability” and he believed it is not something the Government is willing to confront. He said experts had called for affordability to be “specifically defined as a third of a person’s income”.

Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton said that “some 48 per cent of all housing built in the next decade will be either social or affordable” and that was not relying on the private system.

Green Party TD Steven Matthews said the housing target was “large but doable”. But he warned that “it also creates another problem in that it leads to significant carbon emissions if these are all to be new builds”.

The Wicklow TD said concrete production “is an enormous carbon emitter”.

Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan claimed “there is an attempt to normalise our housing crisis by saying it is a problem internationally and by pointing to what is going on in other European countries to make it acceptable somehow”.

He said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar when taoiseach tried to normalise homelessness by saying it is an international problem. “People saw through that and the public did not accept it and the public will not accept this now,” Mr O’Callaghan said.