Thursday, 26 June 2014
We have just watched - some of us in total frustration - the fundamentally flawed Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 being passed by the House. The Bill which contains major flaws is not the problem. The greatest flaw of all is the lack of a coherent housing strategy to take account of the bigger picture and focus on the economic and social consequences of how we plan and deliver housing in all its forms. Let us consider what we are doing. Spending on the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, rent supplement and long-term leasing is going to amount to somewhere in the region of €400 million a year. If a similar amount is spent - there is no reason to believe this will not be the case - in each of the next ten years, the total amount involved is going to be €4 billion. In essence, that money is going to end up in the pockets of landlords. I accept that there is a short-term need, but what is being done will not result in good value for taxpayers and it is not good social policy.
Officials from the lead local authority charged with piloting the new HAP scheme came before the relevant committee of the Oireachtas and stated "once households are supported by HAP they will be considered to have their housing needs met and will be removed from the housing waiting list." They went on to state, "At the end of December 2013 there were approximately 80,000 on rent supplement. Of these, 50,000 are long term RS [rent supplement] recipients that will migrate to HAP ... As they transfer to HAP, waiting lists will be reduced by 50,000." What is being done is a temporary solution to a permanent problem. It involves massaging figures, rather than delivering real homes. It is clear that we need a housing strategy which is integrated with the public policies that obtain in areas such as transportation, finance and education. Such a strategy will not come about by accident. As a result of the outsourcing of responsibility to the markets and a return to a developer-led approach, we are moving back to the model which led to the economic crash.
Does the Minister accept that a housing strategy must be at the core of our efforts to rebuild Ireland? Does he also accept that we must not replicate the boom and bust scenario which obtained in the construction sector in the past? Does he further accept that the HAP scheme will lead to housing list figures being superficially manipulated and prevent a transparent analysis of the real scale of social housing need?