Social housing strategy to provide 35,000 homes by 2020

Coalition will spend €3.8bn on ambitious plan, but Fianna Fáil calls it a ‘stunt’

 Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly at the announcement of the social housing strategy 2020 at Custom House in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly at the announcement of the social housing strategy 2020 at Custom House in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government has committed to spending €3.8 billion to build and refurbish 35,000 social housing units over the next five years.

The Coalition’s ambitious social housing strategy has been launched by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly.

The strategy is a linchpin of the document of revised priorities for Government published in July by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton.

Mr Kelly portrayed the strategy as central to his role as Minister and its success is also being seen politically as crucial to the Labour Party’s hopes of recovering support ahead of the general election.

“I am unlikely to have a more important day in this office. It is the most important announcement to be made during my time as Minster,” said Mr Kelly at a media event at the Custom House in Dublin that was also attended by the department’s Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Paudie Coffey.

Mr Kelly said the initiative was his number one priority as Minister, describing it as the first comprehensive housing plan since 1995. The neglect of social housing programmes in recent years was deplorable, he said. The strategy has promised to effectively eliminate the housing waiting list of 90,000 by 2020.

In addition to the 35,000 houses and flats that will be made available, a new housing assistance payment will be made available to 75,000 households who will rent their homes in the private sector.

The department said 50,000 of these individuals and families are currently in receipt of rent supplement. The new payment will differ in that it will be administered by local authorities and will facilitate recipients continuing to receive payments if they gain full-time employment. This removes one potential barrier where people refused to take up jobs because it resulted in them losing rent supplement.

Political opponents said the new scheme was rent supplement by another name.

Asked how he would manage to prevent tenants from being squeezed out of flats and homes as rents increased, Mr Kelly said he did not favour rent controls but clearly long- term solutions such as fixed- term leasing needed to be agreed with landlords.

 

Fixed-term tenancies

 

The strategy states there is a “need to examine how greater stability might be created for tenants. The State as a major fund and regulator of the sector will explore the potential that fixed-term tenancy agreements offer.”

“The targets are challenging,” it said, “particularly in context of rising private sector rents.”

The €3.8 billion funding will come from central exchequer funds, off-balance-sheet funds and some public-private partnership programmes. Mr Kelly said virtually all the funding would come from Government.

The strategy also provides for greatly increased participation by voluntary housing associations.

Of the 35,000 new units, about 22,500 will be built or bought, a further 11,000 will be leased and another 2,300 houses and flats will be so-called voids – local- authority properties that have been boarded up or vacated, often because of antisocial behaviour.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen described the strategy as a stunt, claiming it was the third launch within the space of six months.

“It is a rehash of old ideas about buying homes, public- private partnerships and extending financing out into 2020 in order to put a gloss on the numbers. They are cooking the books by playing around with numbers by diverting people from the waiting list on to the new housing assistance payment,” he said.