It is time for a state-led approach to housing

10 April 2019

Speech by Deputy Brendan Ryan in Dáil Éireann on Labour’s housing motion ‘Building Homes for the Future’. 

Deputy Ryan said;

The time for a state-led approach to housing is long overdue and unfortunately, this Government has driven us further and further towards a market-led approach. This has been a disaster. The shift in Government policy in 2016 towards a landlord-led solution to the housing crisis has served to deepen the crisis further and adding needless complexity to a situation that was already very complicated. In late 2014 and 2015 as the economy began to improve we were able to secure funding for investment in the building of local authority homes. It was a start and was only part of the solution but we did make a start. 

I know in my own constituency of Fingal, a number of social housing schemes came off the shelf and went into development in places like Lusk, Balbriggan, Balrothery, and Ballyboughal. It was encouraging but it was not to last. Unfortunately after 2016 the focus shifted to the landlord-led approach that we see now. Some of the projects that got out the gate in 2014/2015 have been completed in Fingal.

Some are still under construction, but not many have gotten the go-ahead since 2016. The shift to a landlord-led and developer-led solution to the housing crisis has worsened the housing and homeless crisis immeasurably. We are now in a position in which there is no hope for many. Families in hotels, families split up, the hidden homeless still living with parents, crammed into box rooms or getting by due to the generosity of friends. 

It is scandalous. 

They are all trying to navigate a complex administrative procedure which in my own case of Fingal can see them having to shuttle between Blanchardstown and Dublin City Council Homeless services, filling out endless forms only to receive a phone number at the end of it for self-accommodation. It is demoralising and soul destroying for these people.

Single homeless men and women have been totally thrown to the wolves due to absurd administration rules laid down by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive. They cannot avail of B&B accommodation and they cannot self-accommodate. The HAP rates available to single people are nowhere near adequate even if a place can be found. They are forced into city centre hostels, sometimes dangerous or worse still, to have to take to the streets. It is an abhorrent state of affairs.   There is also inertia in terms of recognising the changing environment of the housing crisis. 

In particular, this is the case for people who are now finding themselves marginally over the income thresholds for qualifying for social housing support. As it currently stands, the income threshold level for which an applicant may qualify for social housing in Fingal is set at €35,000 per annum for a single person.  Beyond this, depending on family sizes the threshold varies, yet for an average family of two adults and two children, the level currently sits at €38,500 per annum. In cases whereby a household contains 3 adults and 4 children, the threshold stands at its highest- €42,000. 

These limits were established in 2011 and have not changed since. The income threshold as it stands is simply too low, and has led to more problems being created than solved. Furthermore, the Working Family Payment is reckoned as part of the household income assessment. So, what we have is one arm of the state recognising that a family does not have enough to live on and therefore qualifying for WFP and another saying that as a result of that payment the family ought to be able to provide accommodation for itself. It is absolute nonsense and must be addressed and resolved urgently.

Many families in the Fingal area who have been on the housing list for in excess of 7 years have now been removed from that same list, due to being a couple of hundred euro over the existing threshold. This is simply an unacceptable situation which is causing great distress for families who have been patiently waiting to be offered housing for many years. 

A situation whereby a person may have to refuse a promotion in order to ensure that they do not rise slightly above the threshold is in complete contrast to the kind of employment innovation that the government should be promoting.I was told last July in the Dáil that “As part of the broader agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports has commenced. The Housing Agency is carrying out the detailed statistical work on behalf of the Department and I expect the results of this review to be available for publication later in the summer.” 

Despite the publication of these statistics with the Summary of Social Housing Assessments 2018, no change has been implemented yet.Is it the case that the government is holding out on increasing the threshold so as to avoid making more people eligible for HAP? The work is done on the review so let’s publish it and issue the circular to Local Authorities immediately.

The Government has failed to adequately explain the implications of the influx of large private equity funds into the housing market. The sale of 118 two, three and four bedroom properties in Balbriggan and Donabate by Glenveagh developments to private investment fund Ires Reit at an average price of €323,728 per property will take first-time buyers out of an already squeezed market. Ires Reit is the largest rental company in the state.  This will inevitably push the price of houses up in the midst of a housing crisis while also pushing the already extortionate rental prices up further. 

The issue here is that these properties I imagine will not be rented at an affordable level. They will be put on the market at the current market value rents which are boiling hot. It is another example of what happens when you let the market free reign on housing.

I want to congratulate my colleague and council candidate in Donabate-Portrane, Corina Johnston, for raising the issue which was followed by others. Last week we had a presentation in Dublin on the Vienna Housing model. It was very interesting and we include it here in our Motion. The Vienna model delivers large scale public housing for long term and secure rent through a number of vehicles including private developers. 

The result is that large swathes of the population rent their homes from public authorities people from all walks of life, at all skill levels, and wage levels, unskilled workers, professionals. They all understand the need for a communitarian approach to housing in which rents are affordable and security is provided.

We are so far away from this under the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Government arrangement that it seems like a utopian dream.  This Government could not even continue with the beginnings of traditional social housing builds which we got off the ground at the back end of the last government. 

Their loaves and fishes approach to hoping the increased demand will be met with existing supply has led to the shocking statistic of over 10,000 people in homelessness. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Cavan Town, or Ballina, or Skerries without a home.  Shocking!

And it is only getting worse. This is at a time when rents have soared to unaffordable levels for many. The major split that is occurring in our society is less one of class or income, it is one of security, i.e. those who have security of tenure and those who do not. 

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