Government to direct social housing budget into building homes

Taoiseach says vacant home levy would not be a ‘game-changer’ and there is ‘no quick fix’ to housing crisis

 

The Government is to direct its budget for social housing away from purchasing homes and into building programmes.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy announced a number of policy changes following a homelessness summit at the Customs House in Dublin on Friday where the views of all 31 of the country’s local authority managers were canvassed.

The meeting was organised following the death of four homeless people in Ireland last week and the release of figures showing there are now almost 3,000 homeless children across the country, making up a total homeless population of 8,160.

Following the summit, the Minister said 200 additional emergency beds for homeless people would be in place in Dublin by December and that an additional €10 million would be allocated for family hubs for homeless families who need emergency accommodation.

Additional money is to be made available for health initiatives for homeless people and landlords who are terminating a tenancy will be obliged to notify the Residential Tenancy Board.

“I know it is not exhaustive, I know people will ask is it enough, it is not enough. More will come. When I make decisions I will announce them,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Murphy said a homeless inter-agency group was to be established to manage homeless services. It will be responsible for controlling the various funding streams from departments and agencies that go into the area and John Murphy, the former secretary general at the Department of Enterprise, will chair the group.

He also said a mortgage to rent scheme for people in arrears would be announced before the end of the month.

Among the most significant measures is the decision to change the policy on social housing, which Mr Murphy said would mean local authorities will not be competing against people looking to buy a new home.

The Minister said it would also lead to another 800 new social housing homes being built next year.

Vacancy levy

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government was considering introducing a vacant home levy, which he said would not be a “game-changer”.

Speaking after the homelessness summit, Mr Varadkar said the number of vacant homes is a lot lower than what is estimated by the Central Statistics Office figures. The 2016 Census said that, in total, there were 259,562 vacant homes, including 61,204 vacant holiday homes, in the State.

“It is not something we rule out,” said Mr Varadkar of the potential levy, which then minister for housing Simon Coveney first revealed was under consideration back in April.

“It is something under consideration...But there is no quick fix to this. There is no single solution.”

He insisted the main fix would be the supply of housing and he committed to a significant investment in social housing in the capital plan.

Earlier, Mr Murphy said funding was “not a problem” when it came to tackling the issues of housing and homelessness.

“This year we’re going to build four times as many social houses as we did in 2015, and we have more money to reprioritise into social housing as well,” he said.

He added that dealing with the crisis was “the top priority for this Government”and that new measures would be announced later on Friday to speed up social housing building.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland, which published its 2016 annual report today, warned Mr Murphy not to “lose sight” of the situation of thousands of homeless adults in the midst of escalating concern about homeless families. The annual report shows 6,539 people used its homeless services last year.

Protest

The former lord mayor of Dublin, Cllr Christy Burke (Independent), and the Dublin City Council strategic housing committee chair Daithí Doolan (Sinn Féin) chained themselves to the gates of the Custom House ahead of the summit.

Homeless campaigners from the #MyNameIs campaign also held a protest by the gates of the Custom House.

Mr Burke said there was “no point in having a summit if it is going to be a talking shop. We’ve had nothing but misery in the last seven days with deaths in our city. Really what we want is a plan of action. Don’t tell us any more, Minister – show us.”

Cllr Doolan said additional funding needed to be made available to local authorities to build social housing, and the procurement process for selecting building contractors needed to be streamlined for social housing projects.

Anthony Flynn, head of Inner City Helping Homeless, a voluntary group, said: “What we’re seeing now is a further increase in families homeless. Month on month, all we are seeing is increases. People are dying on our streets. Report after report is not going to get houses built.”