Social housing: A worsening situation

Lack of co-ordination and financial follow-through is making it harder to deal with a worsening situation

 

Lack of co-ordination and financial follow-through regarding the provision of social and emergency housing is making it harder to deal with a worsening situation. Dublin City Council, Government Ministers and local politicians have all been implicated as waiting lists reach record levels, including 16,500 children, while Focus Ireland estimated that an additional 700 families will become homeless by Christmas. This exceptional housing shortage is being replicated in other cities, but the greater Dublin area is most affected.

Last year, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly promised to make 18,000 social units available by way of a €2.2 billion, three-year plan. He then added a further €1.6 billion in funding with the aim of eliminating waiting lists by 2020. On the basis of present figures, there is little chance of that aspiration being realised. Dublin councillors have questions of their own to answer. At a time of a homeless/housing emergency, they opted to cut council income and placate private homeowners by reducing their property tax charge by 15 per cent. Later, officials complained that the Government had not advanced the funding needed for homeless services.

Such bickering, public handwashing and lack of co-ordination bring great uncertainty to a fraught situation. In spite of the rejection by councillors of plans to provide emergency accommodation for the homeless at O’Devaney Gardens, however, council proposals to build 1,500 social homes and private houses at three city land banks are going ahead, along with a plan by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to provide 400 modular units for displaced families. The chief complaint concerning these ventures – and overall Government plans – is that urgently required accommodation will not become available quickly enough.

Aside from the provision of social and emergency housing, the Government should initiate a review of policies that have contributed to the present situation. In particular, legislation that grants automatic succession rights to the children of tenants in local authority homes should be modified. Similarly, the right of tenants to buy local authority houses at a discounted price should be reconsidered. Arising from the disposal of local authority assets, Dublin City Council now owns only 25,000 flats and houses. Effects from the building crash and rising private sector rents have caused its waiting list to ratchet up to the record figure of 21,592. It would take a doubling of its housing stock to meet that demand. Such a stark situation requires clear and courageous policy choices. Because of long-term costs and social implications, the ESRI recently challenged the Government to promote private home ownership or to favour long-term public and private rentals. It awaits a formal response.

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