The homelessness crisis persists and has become more acute

Taxes should be imposed on vacant and derelict houses and on rezoned land to encourage their use to address the social housing shortage

 

Successive governments have failed to ensure citizens can access affordable housing, while the obvious affront of people sleeping rough on our streets remains. The fact that more than 6,000 people, including children, are now officially “homeless” and living in emergency accommodation in hotels, guesthouses and charity shelters is offensive.

The crisis is inevitably more poignant at Christmas but it is nothing new. It is a more virulent form of previous accommodation shortages. It flows from policy decisions and political collusion that created a deeply unequal society.

A decision to transfer responsibility for building social housing to the private sector in the 1990s was followed by the sale of existing housing stock to tenants. Local authorities became renters from the private sector, rather than builders, while nothing was done to control the escalating cost of building land.

Ten years ago, because of worsening circumstances, 1,000 emergency bed and breakfast places had to be sourced in Dublin. Homeless charities asked the government to provide an additional 10,000 social and affordable houses over three years in response to the crisis. Then the building industry went wallop. In recent years as the economy recovered, this Government and its predecessor struggled to cope with rising rents and a growing housing shortage. Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has asked the private sector to build urgently needed homes on publicly supplied land.

The occupation of Apollo House in Dublin is not intended by the Home Sweet Home movement as part of the solution, but as a manifestation of the scale of a persistent, unresolved, complex, all-year-round problem – a lack of suitable permanent accommodation.

On-the-ground remedial action is required rather than further housing targets. And taxes should be imposed immediately on vacant and derelict houses and on rezoned land to encourage their use to address the social housing crisis with more urgency.

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