Ireland’s Housing & Homelessness Crisis – Is UN & EU criticism of our Government justified?

Published: 05.04.2019


UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha wrote to the Irish Government critising its housing policy in light of record numbers of people living in emergency accommodation. In this blog post, Advocacy Manager Roughan Mac Namara reflects on the failures of the Government to tackle the crisis.

Focus Ireland has warned that the new record of over 10,000 people homeless must be a line in the sand in the battle to end this ever deepening crisis.

We have repeatedly stressed that a major shift in housing policy is urgently required by the Government in order to end this terrible human crisis.

In 2015 the Government was “disappointed” when the number of children who were homeless reached 1,000.

Now in 2019 the Government is “highly disappointed” when nearly 4,000 children are homeless.

How can any Government claim its policies are working when these are the results?

Of course there is good work being done. Focus Ireland helped over 400 families to secure a home last year – in partnership with the State – and to move on from homelessness. However, the latest figures show that the crisis is deepening despite this good work by state agencies and NGO’s as the Government has not taken enough action to tackle the deeper issues which are driving more people into homelessness

The stark reality is that the figures continue to only go one way – and that is up!

It is now not just the likes of Focus Ireland and other NGO’s calling for change. In recent weeks Ireland has been called out by both the UN and the EU Commission on its failing housing policies.

Focus Ireland’s long-standing views were echoed in comments by the European Commission last month. In its ‘Country Specific Report’ on Ireland the Commission strongly criticised the Irish Government’s housing policy, suggesting insufficient residential construction, rising rents and a lack of affordable and social housing were driving increased rates of homelessness in Dublin and around the country.

In its latest assessment of country-specific challenges across Europe, the EU’s executive arm said the shortage of housing had caused a sharp 23% rise in rents since 2015, which it said was the highest in the EU. Then only last week the United Nations also condemned Irish Government policy for allowing multinational vulture funds to buy up vast swathes of properties and then rent them out at sky-high costs.

the EU’s executive arm said the shortage of housing had caused a sharp 23% rise in rents since 2015, which it said was the highest in the EU

So the question has to be asked.

Is the UN wrong?

Is the EU Commission wrong?

Is Focus Ireland wrong?…. and the Government is right in its belief that its policies are working?

The constant Government refrain is that it will take time to end this crisis. I think it will take a lot more than time. It will take a major change in policy.

The Government has continued the failed approach of previous Governments of a massive over reliance on use of private rented accommodation to meet social housing need. Last year alone government targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland were that 77% of new social housing provision was to be met by securing accommodation in the rental market.

The families and individuals who are homeless are suffering the worst impact of this crisis and the failure of Government housing policy. However, it is clear that the Irish Housing system is dysfunctional at present with people suffering from rocketing rents and a lack of security in the private rented sector while buying their own home is a distant dream for a growing number in our society.

And this is not just about trying to end homelessness.

Delivering enough social housing to meet the needs of our society is a key part of any healthy housing system and it will have the knock on impact of freeing up much accommodation in the rental market.

There must be more immediate action by the Government to deliver more social housing, affordable rental and home ownership. Delivering more social housing will help reduce demand for private rented accommodation and ease rents. It will help all in our society. This is how a healthy housing system works.

Delivering enough social housing to meet the needs of our society is a key part of any healthy housing system and it will have the knock on impact of freeing up much accommodation in the rental market.

However, the Government’s primary response to the crisis of family homelessness has been to build more ‘Hubs’ and other emergency accommodation. Recent reports show that local authorities expect to have to provide hundred more emergency beds in the next few years. If anything is a signal of failure that must be.

Record numbers homeless.

One in 10 people spending over 60% of their income on rent in Ireland.

Ireland needs a radical change in housing policy and direction and we need it now.

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Tags: Causes, Challenges, Housing, Policy

Author: Roughan Mac Namara

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