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Rebuilding Ireland isn’t working – in fact its making things worse

Wednesday, 25th July, 2018 5:06pm

By Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Fein spokesperson on Housing, Planning and Local Government and Waste Management

 

Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s flagship housing programme was launched to much fanfare two years ago this week. Running to 115 pages, the plan boasted five pillars and almost 100 action points.

At the heart of the plan is a commitment to “meet the housing needs” of 135,000 households in need of social housing by 2021.

This would be achieved via 37,000 real social houses - owned by councils and approved housing bodies - 10,000 subsidised private sector long term leases and 88,000 subsidised short term leases via the Housing Assistance Payment and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

Funding for an additional 3,000 real social houses to be delivered from 2019 to 2021 was approved in Budget 2018.

The cost of meeting these targets would require a capital spend of €5.5bn over six years alongside a rent subsidy bill to the private sector totalling more than €3bn over the same period and continuing at €750m a year from 2021.

Alongside the social housing pillar, Rebuilding Ireland also promises action to reduce homelessness, assist the private sector increase supply, strengthen the private rental sector while assisting affordability and a strategy to tackle vacant homes in the public and private sectors.

Two years on and it is clear that Rebuilding Ireland has failed. In fact, there is growing evidence to demonstrate that it is in fact making things worse.

Since July 2016, homelessness has increased 50 per cent, pensioner homeless has increased 54 per cent and child homelessness is up a shocking 63 per cent. While Government spending on emergency accommodation has increased, inaction on the prevention side coupled with slow delivery of social housing is forcing thousands into emergency accommodation.

We now have over 10,000 adults including 4,000 children living in Department of Housing funded hubs, hostels and hotels, many for up to two years.

Simon Coveney, when Minister for Housing, promised to end the use of commercial hotels for homeless families by July 2017. His failure to meet even this modest target is indicative of the wider failure to tackle the spiralling homeless crisis.

The central problem here is not that the Government aren’t meeting their social housing targets. The targets themselves are two low and the pace of delivery too slow.

The special Dáil Housing and Homeless Committee report published in June 2016 recommended the delivery of 10,000 real social homes a year every year and action to cut delivery times. The Government targets falls 40 per cent short of that and delivery takes up to three years.

Worse still, despite having been offered 1,800 turnkey homes for purchase by a variety of banks and funds, to date Government has bought just 382 of these and tenanted even less.

Meanwhile despite a long list of actions to assist the private sector - fast track planning, reduced apartment sizes and increased heights, a €200m infrastructure fund and a €90m Help to Buy tax break to name but a few - delivery is anaemic.

Worse still is the gap between average wages and house prices, particularly in the large urban areas. While increased supply is urgently needed, it is becoming increasing clear that the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide decent homes for modest income working people.

All the while, rents spiral upwards by a massive 22 per cent since Rebuilding Ireland was published. There is growing evidence from the RTB quarterly Rent Index that the Rent Pressure Zone four per cent rent cap isn’t working and still no sign of the long promised cost rental model of affordable housing promised not only in Rebuilding Ireland but the 2014 plan as well.

Most disappointingly, despite the CSO identifying 183,000 vacant homes across the country in 2016 and Geo Directories confirming at least 90,000 of these, only 79 homes have been returned to stock via the Government’s two vacant home schemes – Repair and Lease and Buy and Renew - while Minister Eoghan Murphy has still not published his vacant homes strategy.

At the core of Rebuilding Ireland’s failure is double negative. The first is a chronic over reliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need. The second is a failure to understand the scale of the problem and the corresponding level of state intervention needed to tackle it.

Today real social housing need stands at more than 140,000 households yet Rebuilding Ireland commits to meeting less than 30 per cent of this with real social housing. While no figure exists for affordable housing need, Rebuilding Ireland contains no targets for affordable purchase or rent and two years in not a single affordable home has been produced via any central government scheme.

The Government needs to admit that Rebuilding Ireland has failed. It must accept that only a level of direct state provision of public housing commensurate with current social and affordable housing need will address crisis.

In Budget 2019, they must double capital investment in public housing to start this process and commence a decade long investment in meeting housing need through sustainable and vibrant mixed income communities living in public housing built on public land with public finance.

This article was first published by the Irish Times on 18 June.

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