Tuesday, 8 November 2022
Housing for All: Statements (Resumed)
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. Homelessness is a measure by which any housing policy would be assessed. Just before the mid-term break, we spoke here about the levels of homelessness. Back in August there were 10,800 adults and children in emergency accommodation, funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. We think the real figure is closer to 16,000 when you take into account the 4,500 people in direct provision who have a legal right to stay in our country but who are trapped in direct provision. We must also include the number of rough sleepers and of women and children in Tusla-funded domestic shelters who have fled domestic and sexual-based violence. That 16,000 figure would also not include those who are forced to stay with family and friends, couch-surf or stay in overcrowded or otherwise unsuitable accommodation. That is a measure by which any housing policy is judged.
On child homelessness, studies show that children and young people are disproportionately represented in these figures, with children accounting for just under one third of total homeless figures. Research by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and others shows that experience of homelessness and poor quality housing increases the risk of severe physical and mental ill health during childhood and early adulthood by up to 25%.
Rising rents, combined with increasing house prices mean that home ownership is becoming an increasingly unlikely prospect for many. Recent figures form the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, indicate that the home ownership rate is set to fall to as low as 50% for those aged between 25 and 34. However, the Government’s failure to provide effective safeguards beyond the winter evictions ban for those renting means that Ireland is a precarious place for renters. The rental sector in Ireland is often characterised by accommodation that is unsuitable for many individuals and families and Sinn Féin made renters in the private rental market our focus in a recent Private Members' motion in this House. I too would welcome an update on the amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann that Senator Fitzpatrick has mentioned.
Ever-increasing house prices, combined with the lack of affordable and suitable rental accommodation means there is a greater need than ever for affordable social homes. Unfortunately the Government targets are not sufficiently ambitious to effectively address the need for social housing. This issue is compounded by a failure to deliver on proposed targets. The issue is not just that these targets are being missed but that the Department then simply discards these units entirely. Instead of accepting that we need to take these missed units and roll them into increased targets for subsequent years, they are just lost. Since this Government took office, 8,000 of the promised social homes have not been and will not be delivered. I give that figure with an optimistic assessment of the output this year. However, the Government’s figures indicate that just 20% of the promised 9,000 social homes have been delivered by halfway through the year. In other words, just 1,700 of the promised 9,000 new-build social homes have been delivered.While I welcome the Government's reopening of the tenant in situscheme, 300 homes is nowhere near enough. The scheme should have been opened at the start of the year. Local authorities are still far too slow in taking up this instruction. The Government should go further than it has to date and issue a circular to instruct local authorities to buy these properties, subject to price and condition of them, to stop families and single people becoming homeless. The Government must also reassess the current caps on acquiring houses from the private rental market. The current caps are insufficient and do not take adequate account of the current housing market within which the local housing authorities are currently operating.
In conclusion, the winter ban on evictions is welcome. We had called for that for a long time. However, it has to be met with emergency measures to increase affordable housing and social supply. Let us use the breathing space that the winter ban on evictions gives us to accelerate and increase the delivery of public housing to meet social and affordable housing need by bringing more vacant units into stock, delivering higher quality permanent modular homes, cutting red tape and bureaucracy that is slowing down the delivery of social homes, and increasing the purchase of private rental homes with HAP and RAS tenants in place at risk of eviction.