The Irish Times view on housing crisis: running out of time

Murphy is being portrayed as out-of-touch, complacent, incompetent, disrespectful, elitist, and a posh boy who doesn’t get what it means to be poor

 

Images of children sleeping on chairs in a Garda station punctured the complacency of a society grown accustomed to families being forced from their homes by rising rents and mortgage foreclosures. Homelessness and what it means for those who depend on unsuitable B&B and hotel accommodation, when things go wrong, was bleakly exposed. Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy got it in the neck. But the homeless crisis has been decades in the making.

Irish governments followed the UK’s example and opted for market-led solutions that relied on the private sector to provide homes, which were then rented – with State assistance – by low-income families. The cost this year will be €535m. Because of rising rents and a housing shortage, however, the number of homeless families has been rising steadily.

Something had to be done. Last year, following a policy review, the minister announced that 50,000 social homes would be built over four years. It was a dramatic shift, even if a majority of the homes were to be privately built. And demand is unlikely to be satisfied.

Housing shortages and economic crashes have gone hand-in-hand in this State. Last July, the number of homeless households came to 10,000 – the same level as in 2000. Back then, with a building boom under way, an Oireachtas committee recommended that councils should be empowered to acquire social housing land at reduced cost. A site costs about half of the entire home build. Nothing happened. Currently, an affordable housing crisis across Europe can be traced to a 44 per cent drop in capital investment in social housing.

Housing matters will feature prominently in the coming general election. But the sharpest focus is likely to be on rising home values and anticipated changes to property taxes. As of now, however, homelessness has centre stage and Murphy is being portrayed as out-of-touch, complacent, incompetent, disrespectful, elitist, and a posh boy who doesn’t get what it means to be poor. The charges cut deep.

Fine Gael brought this on itself. For years, its ministers took refuge in housing figures that counted electricity connections as new homes. That canard was exposed by the CSO when it reported the number of new homes had been overstated by as much as 60 per cent. In addition, untoward delay had taken place in delivering rapid-build social housing. And tenant-protection powers involving the Residential Tenancies Board are still awaited.

Some progress has been made. The number of rough sleepers in Dublin declined significantly over the year while the homeless figures for July fell from a May peak. In other cities and urban centres, however, homeless numbers rose. Murphy – and the Government – are running out of time.

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