Housing plan welcomed by agencies with hope rather than expectation

Kitty Holland: Housing For All is low on ambition and has a dearth of detail

Agencies working with households at the sharpest end of the now seven-year long housing crisis – the homeless and low-income renters – have broadly welcomed Housing For All.

The prevailing air across all their statements on Thursday, however, was one of hope rather than expectation.

The plan says it will provide more than 10,000 social houses per year with an average 9,500 newbuilds to 2026.

These targets represent no increase on the those set in the last big plan Rebuilding Ireland (which Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Thursday had been "not enough").

Given the commitment in this to end local authorities’ and housing bodies’ long-term leasing of homes, the number of new social housing units provided looks set to decrease.

Many commentators, including the ESRI, have said between 18,000 and 20,000 new-build social homes per year will be needed to meet the needs of the over 60,000 households on the housing list, the thousands on the Housing Assistance Payment who want permanent social housing, and future demand.

The strategy makes the bold statement that it will “eradicate” homelessness, but provides no ideas on how to halt the ongoing eviction of low-income families and single people into homelessness, or on how to get them out of emergency accommodation once there.

Announced increases in the Housing First initiative – which targets single people sleeping rough with intensive supports into housing – from 200 tenancies per year to 240, are minuscule and will do little to make a dent in the number of single people in emergency accommodation, which stands at over 4,500.

There doesn’t appear to be a word on the need to ramp up provision of single-bed units for this cohort of our homeless.

While promising to extend the rent-pressure zones until 2024 and linking rent increases to the consumer price index - which will see rents increase by about 2 per cent per year - there is no strategy to bring down current sky-high rents.

Much was made of the planned introduction of indefinite leases for tenants in the private sector. Currently leases run for a maximum of six years, after which a landlord may choose to renew the lease. Indefinite leases may provide a false sense of long-term security, but they will do nothing to prevent a landlord serving a notice-to-quit for reasons including a stated intention to sell, to move a family member in or for ‘substantial’ refurbishment.

For any family in the private rented sector facing eviction for any of those reasons; for any couple paying 50 per cent of their income rent; for any young person sleeping in a tent there appears little immediate relief in this plan.

Introducing it Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Housing For All recognised the “scale of the challenge” of the housing crisis.

“There is no easy of immediate fix,” he cautioned however, adding the difference in this plan would be a focus on and demand for delivery. Given the low ambition and dearth of detail, delivery is the least we should hope for.