Monday, December 7, 2015

Delivering an effective Housing plan


Last Friday Sinn Féin unveiled a policy document to address the housing crisis that has been created by successive Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour governments. The policy will deliver 100,000 new social and affordable homes, and security and certainty for tenants, and also support homeowners and buyers.

Increasing homelessness, soaring rents, never-ending housing waiting lists, and poor quality houses and apartments, are the legacy of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and the Labour party.

Housing across the 26 counties is in crisis as successive governments have handed responsibility for housing to landlords, developers and bankers. Profit has been put before the needs of citizens and we are all paying the price.

Days before the launch of the Sinn Féin plan Fine Gael and Labour voted down a Sinn Féin Bill in the Dáil - "Rent Certainty and Prevention of Homelessness Bill".

The proposals contained in the Bill were all called for by those in the front line dealing with the housing and homeless crisis, including the Simon Community, Focus Ireland and Peter McVerry. The Bill would have provided for definitive action on the current rental and homelessness crisis by linking rents to the rate of inflation and by limiting rent increases over a period of time.

It would also have updated the definition of homelessness and put an onus on local authorities to act in support of people who are facing homelessness.

The government’s decision to vote down the Bill was in the week that saw the one year anniversary of the tragic death of Jonathan Corrie.

Jonathan died from the cold last December, huddled in a doorway, just a few yards from the Dáil. That any citizen would die from the cold is an indictment of government policy. Sadly despite his death and the promises of action in its wake by the government, the housing and homeless crisis has become worse.

Since then two more homeless men have died on Dublin’s streets. The government’s response has been grossly inadequate.

Following Jonathan Corrie’s death the government sought to tackle the most visible evidence of its failure – the increasing numbers of rough sleepers. Over the Christmas period last year extra emergency beds were provided which saw an immediate decrease in the numbers sleeping rough on our streets. However the causes of the rise in homelessness which led to the rough sleeper epidemic have not been tackled.

This year the government claim is that there is a bed for everyone. But the provision of emergency accommodation is no solution. It is a sticking plaster approach to a much more deep rooted problem.

The government’s strategy has been to put the problem out of sight without any real meaningful solutions. According to Focus Ireland some 100 people are sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin each night and this trend is increasing in other cities, including Cork, Limerick and Galway.

The causes of homelessness in this state all spring from the fact that we have far too few local authority homes in which to house people and we have built only a few hundred each year since the economic crisis began.

This has led to massive pressure on the private rental market which in turn has driven up rents and pushed down conditions for these renters. Last December approximately 40 families each month were losing their homes.

Focus Ireland states that the figure has now doubled to between 70 and 80 families. A year ago more than 300 families (726 children) were homeless in Dublin. In May this figure had risen to 900 children and 1,488 adults. Two weeks ago the Dublin Region Homeless Executive reported that 1,425 children in 677 families are in emergency accommodation in Dublin.

This is a 109 per cent increase in the number of homeless children since October 2014.

Crucially on this government’s watch the number of children in homeless accommodation has gone up almost every month since October 2014. Government statistics show that in September there were 4,999 people in emergency accommodation across the State. This was made up of 1,571 children, 980 parents and 2,448 adults without children.

There are now almost 90,000 households on local authority waiting lists – some put the real figure at 130,000 - and some have been there for a decade.

Three weeks ago a major European report – the European Index of Exclusion 2015 - found that the Irish state has the second highest rate of rent and mortgage arrears within the EU. One in five citizens are affected by this. Of the 28 EU states, 16 see poor tenants pay out more for accommodation than those taking home above the average income.

This state is the second worst with almost half of poor households paying out more. At the end of June almost 100,000 mortgage accounts were in arrears. Just over seventy thousand households were in arrears for more than 90 days.

These statistics are an indictment of Fine Gael and Labour, and of Fianna Fáil and Green Party government before them. These bad policies contribute to this state having a higher percentage of children at risk of poverty – 34% - compared to the EU average of 28%.

Most recently the government’s failure to speedily introduce measures to tackle spiralling rents contributed to some landlords exploiting the government’s prevarication to push rents up. The data from shows that since September rents have risen across the state by 3.2%. With Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick seeing increases of between 8.9 and 13.5% on last year.

My own constituency of Louth is among the regions with the highest rates of inflation in rents outside of Dublin. According to Louth saw an increase of 13.3% in rents since last year. This compares with 12.2% in Galway and 11.4% in Limerick. Rents also rose by an average of 3.2% in Leinster – outside of Dublin – between June and September – with the biggest increases in Louth and Meath.

The government was warned that its refusal to take firm action to introduce rent certainty measures would encourage landlords to increase rents before any legislation was introduced. The report confirms this.

The government’s approach has been inadequate to meet the needs of families desperate for a home. In its five years in office it has built fewer homes than was built in any single year for the previous decade.

The solution to the housing crisis is to build social housing and it is clearly government policy not to do this.

What is needed is a holistic approach which tackles social housing need, private market provision, and rent inequality.

Critically, as we approach the centenary of the Proclamation with its emphasis on social justice and equality we need a commitment to providing every citizen with adequate and appropriate housing.

Sinn Féin believes that every person, whatever their background or ethnicity, has the right to housing of a standard that provides privacy, space, security, comfort and basic facilities needed for the 21st century.

To achieve this Sinn Féin is committing to building 100,000 new social and affordable homes by Local Authorities and approved Housing Bodies over the next 15 years.

Between 2016 – 2021 Sinn Féin will build and deliver almost 36,500 social and affordable homes and will spend an additional €2.2 billion over and above the government’s current capital commitments.

This comprehensive housing document, which is available on the Sinn Féin website, is a fully costed housing document which can effectively tackle the housing and homeless crisis.

It will be a major plank of our election campaign in the new year when the Taoiseach finally calls the general election.



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