Social Democrats unveil housing policy in response to crisis

Party’s policy initiative advocates new department, minister with full cabinet status

Socially aware: Catherine Murphy, Stephen Donnelly and  Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats. The party has unveiled its housing policy ahead of the election. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Socially aware: Catherine Murphy, Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats. The party has unveiled its housing policy ahead of the election. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Social Democrats have proposed a new department of communities, housing and planning, as a means of tackling the housing and homeless crisis.

The party unveiled its housing policy in Dublin on Friday. Co-leader Catherine Murphy said that making housing the responsibility of a senior minister, rather than that of a minister of State, would help alleviate the situation.

Another key proposal in the 18-page document is the establishment of Housing Ireland, a new agency that would have responsibility for delivering social housing, mixed-type developments and using State land for housing.

The party also proposes several other specific measures, including reducing the 140,000 local authority waiting list for housing by 10,000 each year, introducing rent certainty measures, increasing rent supplement, and reforming laws around termination of leases.

Ms Murphy said that politicians need to think of “building communities as opposed to building houses. What might work in a village might not work in an urban centre,” she said.

She said a new government department with responsibility in this area would address all the deficiencies that have led to the present crisis.

Overcrowding

Party candidate in Dublin Mid-West Anne Marie McNally and candidate in Dublin Bay North Cian O’Callaghan also spoke at the event. Mr O’Callaghan said overcrowding in homes affected the wider community in Coolock. He said there were six children in a class at a school in his constituency whose families were in emergency accommodation. This had an impact not only on those children but also on their classmates, he added.

Lorcan Sirr, a lecturer at the Dublin Institution of Technology, reviewed the document in an independent manner and said some of its ideas were strong, including that for a full minister to tackle the housing problem, plans for substantial improvement in the inspection regime and a housing procurement agency.

He instanced an innovation in Spain where instead of full mortgages, households were offered “temporal ownership” where they could buy a house for a set period, say 10 years.

This provided security for a fixed period and worked out much cheaper than rent. He said it might suit families starting out or older couples who wished to trade down.

Asked was the Social Democrats structure of three leaders working, Ms Murphy replied that it was but might not continue indefinitely.

“The only people that seem to have a problem with it are political commentators; it certainly is not an issue,” she said.

Asked if the party would take a Cabinet seat if in government, she replied: “We are not chasing seats at the cabinet table. We are looking for a change of direction for this country. Five more years like the last five years is not something I think this country can afford. I think it would be disastrous.”