Govt promises more homes to tackle homelessness

Tuesday 20 May 2014 23.20
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The Simon Community says it is 'well beyond the point of doing more with less'
The Simon Community says it is 'well beyond the point of doing more with less'
Fr Peter McVerry says the plan depends on too many agencies coming forward with properties
Fr Peter McVerry says the plan depends on too many agencies coming forward with properties
Brendan Howlin said rent allowance cannot chase rent
Brendan Howlin said rent allowance cannot chase rent

The Government has promised to provide 900 dwellings annually for the homeless over the next three years.

A plan approved at today's Cabinet meeting envisages that the 2,700 housing units would come from refurbished local authority stock and existing State buildings, new construction and property controlled by NAMA.

Minister for Housing Jan O'Sullivan unveiled the Government's plan to eliminate homelessness by 2016. 

The report estimates that there are 2,663 people in emergency accommodation, 1,500 of them in the greater Dublin area.

The numbers of rough sleepers in the capital is currently put at 127.

Almost 2,000 long-term vacant local authority housing units will be brought back into use and allocated to homeless households and other vulnerable groups.

The Government undertakes to refurbish and retrofit some of the 2,000 local authority apartments and flats in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

In the case of vacant units, once refurbished, consideration will be given to making these units available to homeless households and other vulnerable groups in accordance with the appropriate priority.

Ms O'Sullivan said the plan contains 80 actions, which contribute to the delivery of a ring-fenced supply of accommodation by the end of 2016.

Responsibility for implementation of the various actions within specified timelines is assigned to the relevant stakeholders.

The stakeholders include the Departments of the Environment and Social Protection, local authorities and the HSE.

The Government is to establish a Social Rental Agency for Dublin to help cope with the homelessness crisis.

The new body will co-ordinate the efforts of Government agencies and voluntary bodies in securing suitable rental accommodation for individuals and families who find themselves without a home.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny this afternoon said the Government is committed to prioritising the problem of homelessness.

Speaking at an election canvass in Blanchardstown, Mr Kenny said that everyone in the country had a right to have a home over their heads.

He said there was a "demand problem" that the Government needed to deal with in the medium and long-term, as well as helping those in immediate need.

The Taoiseach said Ms O'Sullivan would be reporting about the progress made on the issue at next week's Cabinet meeting.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore earlier described the Government's proposals to tackle homelessness as a "housing-based approach".

He said it is about providing homes for those who are homeless and in danger of becoming so.

He said there were a number of specific measures in the plan, including the re-developing of 1,700 boarded up dwellings which will be released for letting.

He also pointed to a €25m investment to address the issue.

Earlier, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin indicated that the Government will not increase rent allowance levels to address the housing problem.

Mr Howlin said Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will give more flexibility to allow for people's circumstances.

Speaking on his way into a Cabinet meeting this morning, Mr Howlin said that rent allowance cannot chase rent.

He said he is talking to the National Treasury Management Agency about ways to provide additional funding for the construction of social housing.

The minister told reporters that dealing with supply was the way to solve the housing problem.

However, social campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has predicted that the Government's homelessness plan will fail in its aim to end homelessness by 2016.

He said it depends on too many agencies coming forward with properties and it rules out State purchases of homes on the open market.

Simon Community calls for ministers to unite

The Simon Community has urged the Government to adequately resource the plan to end long-term homelessness by 2016.

The charity supports more than 5,000 individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, but said it is "well beyond the point of doing more with less".

The objective to end long-term homelessness in Ireland is a formidable challenge, as five individuals and one family are losing their homes every day in Dublin alone.

The Simon Community said the Cabinet must ensure the minister has what it calls "the essential resources to carry out the plan".

With 90,000 households on social housing waiting lists and with rents rapidly increasing, the charity says poorer people are being priced out of the market.

It said the Government is responsible for ensuring that people in need are housed and urged that those who lose their homes get new ones as quickly as possible.

Elsewhere, the Director of Advocacy at Focus Ireland said the most fundamental and immediate action that could be taken to deal with homelessness is to increase the level of rent supplements that families can pay for rented accommodation.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mike Allen said there should be a refocusing of how to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, landlords have called on the Government to review the ban on bedsits.

Fintan McNamara, Development Adviser with the Residential Landlords Association of Ireland, said there are between 3,000 and 4,000 such units available in Dublin, which could be used immediately to tackle the housing crisis.

Speaking on the same programme, he said that thousands of bedsits would be available straight away if enforcement of the measure was suspended.

Mr McNamara said the measure, which says units must have their own bathroom, had been very short-sighted.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy has said there are many small measures that can be taken to provide short-term solutions to the housing problem.

She said these can be done until housing stocks are addressed in the medium and longer term.

Ms Murphy told RTÉ's News at One that there are a significant number of vacant houses that are privately owned that could be rented on a short-term basis.

She said many of these properties need some form of upgrading or repair, but owners could be encouraged to make them available for a period of two to three years if these repairs were offset against a rental income.