28th November 2014.
I posted an update on the 26th November welcoming the Government’s proposals to increase social housing and I promised to come back to this proposal as soon as I had a chance to look at the details.
In the meantime I have had that opportunity and while still welcoming the commitment and funding to increase social housing output I am also extremely concerned and indeed alarmed at what the government is proposing.
In this context Deputy Derek Nolan is quoted in the City Tribune today on page 2 as saying the housing announcement signalled the ‘biggest ever investment in social housing in the history of the state’
Let’s just look at what is proposed and keeping in mind as we do so, Deputy Nolan’s hyperbole as well as the magnitude of the current housing crisis.
- Nationally there are 90,000 households on housing waiting lists throughout the country including Galway which has 3,962 households as of the end of September on the housing waiting list some of whom are waiting 11 years for a home. Just to note that this figure has risen consistently since I became a Councillor in 1999 notwithstanding major social housing construction projects up to 2010/2011 – For example the figure given to us in March this year was 3,619 households on the list-so in a six month period 343 more households have gone on the waiting list that is approximately 57 additional households every single month and that does not include households whose applications are still being processed.
- To deal with this crisis the government proposes to build 35,000 units of social housing across the country over a six year period which is welcome news without a doubt. However when one looks a little closer it seems that the actual figure of social housing units to be acquired either by direct build or purchased and/or by refurbishment of existing empty units is approximately 24,800. The remaining 11,000 units will be acquired by leasing private property.
- In addition, the primary plank of the new government housing policy is to provide a ‘Housing Assistance Payment’ known as HAP to assist housing applicants and the government announcement confirmed that 75,000 households will come under this scheme and/or a combination of existing similar schemes.
So what are the implications of the housing policy announced by Minister Kelly with the precious words: ‘I am unlikely to have a more important day in this office. It is the most important announcement to be made during my time as Minister’!
- Facing a Housing Crisis of unprecedented proportions the government is committed to providing in total approximately 24,800 units over six years and even the details of that figure are somewhat vague and at times contradictory.
- In a country where rents are rising at an extra ordinary rate (see front page of the Connacht Sentinel on the 18th of November 2014 –‘City Rents are soaring back toward peak boom levels’) the government sees no reason for rent controls to be introduced. Not only that but the government now proposes to pay rent directly to landlords under the guise of ‘Housing Assistance Payment’ as a solution to the housing crisis.
- Housing Applicants will now be treated differently from each other depending on what unit is available when the Local Authority Housing Official reaches their name on the list. For example if a private house is available under the HAP scheme then the housing applicant/family will not only have no choice but to take the unit on offer but will also see their name removed from the housing waiting list.
- The government is relying on a private rental market where houses are in breach of housing standard rules and regulations on an ongoing basis. In this regard see recent report in the Irish Times on page two entitled ‘Huge number of faults in rented housing’: 90% of homes inspected breached housing standard rules’
Without a doubt therefore Minister Kelly’s announcement is certainly the most important announcement to be made during his time as a Minister.
Under the guise of building a relatively small number of social houses given the magnitude of the existing housing crisis not only has he given free reign to the free market but he proposes to actively assist landlords by paying rents directly to them with tax payers money. He is also enshrining a policy of discrimination in relation to the allocation of social housing and copper-fastening for the first time insecurity of tenure as an integral part of government housing policy.