In its submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness the housing and homeless charity Focus Ireland has set out a range of measures through which the newly formed Government can tackle the spiralling housing and homelessness crisis.
Focus Ireland figures show that nearly 300 families with 600 children became homeless in the first 3 months of this year alone in Dublin. The charity said the situation is getting worse nationwide at the most recent figures found over 900 families and nearly 2000 children homeless across the country. The charity said that while its service had managed to secure a home for one family a day, three more families become homeless every day, so that the crisis continues to deepen.
Under the terms of the new government programme, a comprehensive housing and homeless strategy will be published within 100 days. The Oireachtas Committee will now play a key role in shaping that programme. Focus Ireland stressed there are a range of measures which can be put in place immediately – some will help ease the housing and homeless crisis immediately, while others will take time to have full impact.
The actions Focus Ireland is calling for the new Government to make right away include:
– Firm action to provide greater security for tenants in buy-to-let properties as 27,492 of these properties are more than 90 days in arrears. The Dail can fast-track amendments to current legislation to provide this vital protection for tenants.
– Taking action to link rent rises to the rate of inflation and raise rent supplement so it reflects market rents as this will help to keep families and individuals in their current homes and prevent them from becoming homeless. The 15% proposed in the FF/FG agreement falls far behind meeting market realities.
– Fast-track the review of the additional actions which NAMA can take to deliver more social housing
– Investment through the Housing Finance Agency to allow local councils to directly build social housing
Focus Ireland’s submission highlights the potential for the Oireachtas Committee to create much needed cross-party consensus on a concise yet comprehensive framework to tackle homelessness. Such a framework would involve the Government making cast iron commitments – and setting firm deadlines – to end the need to sleep rough, eliminate long-term homelessness and hold a referendum to include the ‘right to housing’ in the Constitution.
The charity’s submission comes as Focus Ireland welcomed the appointment of Simon Coveney as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, and the proposals on housing and homelessness in the programme for government, in particular the commitment to end the use of unsuitable emergency accommodation, the commitment to services for people sleeping rough and increasing rent supplement.
Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said, “We welcome the opportunity to put forward our submission to tackle this escalating crisis as over 5,500 people are now homeless, with over a third of them children. However, we are also sending a clear warning that if the new Government does not act upon these recommendations quickly we will continue to see hundreds of families and individuals lose their homes.”
“Services are already at breaking point and the problem is continuing to deteriorate at an ever faster rate. The last Government took a number of very positive measures to tackle homelessness, but they never fully grasped the scale of the problem we are facing. It is crucial that this Government quickly recognises that it needs to take actions it would not normally contemplate. There are no excuses for any more delays delivering effective action to help keep families and individuals in their homes. The Government – in particular Fine Gael – must learn from mistakes of previous governments and not allow this situation to drift with the cost of even more families becoming homeless.”
Focus Ireland welcomed the fact that housing and homeless was highlighted as a priority issue in the Draft Programme for Partnership but warned that the plans don’t include enough direct action to meet the real level of housing need – either in the area of social or private housing. In particular, Focus Ireland warned by setting a target of “building 25,000 new homes a year by 2020” the Government was guaranteeing the continuation of the housing and homelessness crisis for many years.
Mr. Allen said: “The ESRI and the Housing Agency have indicated that we need to build 25,000 new homes a year just to meet growing demand – so every year that we produce fewer than 25,000 new homes the situation will get worse. The Government targets currently set us on a course for the crisis to get worse every year until 2020, and even after that they will not actually improve. It is crucial that in the 100 days the Minister has to prepare the full action plan, Minister Coveney raising these targets to what is actually required and puts in place the measures to deliver them and a clear process to monitor progress.”
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