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Government housing policy nothing but charade and platitudes – Ellis

19 February, 2013 - by Dessie Ellis TD

Sinn Fein housing spokesperson, Dessie Ellis TD has tonight described the government’s response to the shortage in social housing as nothing more than a charade. He made his comments during a Dáil debate on a Sinn Fein motion tabled by Deputy Ellis dealing with social housing and mortgage distress.
Deputy Ellis continued;
“The government in is Housing Policy statement and in its speeches to housing bodies across the country have engaged in nothing more than a charade peppered with meaningless platitudes. They have not put their political will behind providing secure and adequate housing for the many people in need in this state .
NAMA was heralded a great help in providing housing but this is simply a leasing scheme which out of a promise 3900 has only delivered 179 since it was founded in the winter of 2009.
We have 100,000 people on waiting lists, 94,000 in Rent Supplement and 23, 000 in the Rental Accommodation Scheme. This state is in a continuing housing crisis which is leaving the worst off in our society sleeping on couches and raising their children in unhealthy, damp and crowded conditions.
The government is turning a blind eye to this, more interested in paying someone else’s bank debt than providing for the rights of its people.
The state must use the Pension Reserve Fund, the European Investment Bank, incentivised investment from the private pension sector and social housing bonds to raise funds to start to end this crisis finally.
Sinn Fein have set out how to do this. Fine Gael and Labour now need to listen to new ideas and start delivering for the people who need help.”

Full text of Dessie Ellis TD’s speech:
I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak on the issue of social housing in the house tonight. There has certainly been much talk of housing particularly relating to the issues faced by people at risk of losing their homes, but there has been very little debate on the solutions to these problems even less dedicated to the continuing shortage of social housing.

If you spent much time in this house, certainly listening to the government benches or looking at the topics for discussion then you could be led to believe there was no issue with social housing. In fact the only thing you would learn about social housing is that it apparently is getting too much money spent on it and need a good cut at least once a year.

You would be led to believe that those in social housing are well looked after. That they live very comfortable lives in good conditions and those that aren’t happy with their accommodation are most likely a bit too picky.

But like most pictures this house paints of those hardest hit by this recession, or those who were already on the margins, it is a very distorted picture. Distorted by many things, some deputies are out of touch, some in denial and some still look on those who avail of social housing as more targets for contempt than citizens deserving of their rights.

Because that is what housing is, despite what government policy might indicate. Housing is a right.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Social Charter recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living.

The UNHCR’s General Comment No. 4: The Right to Adequate Housing states “The human right to adequate housing, which is thus derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, is of central importance for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.”

Can we really say that in 2013 this state provides that right to its people. Shamefully we cannot.

At the motion states there are currently nearly 100,000 people on the housing waiting lists of this state. In 1948 the first coalition government commissioned a report which found 59,000 homes were needed across the state to make up for a gap in provision and demand. That was just over a 26 years after of the foundation of state. Now 65 years later we have nearly doubled demand but are nowhere near providing for those numbers. In fact we are providing less new social housing than we were in the 1970’s. The state has a shocking shortage of suitable homes it can provide for people while there are tens of thousands of homes lying idle which in many cases belong to developers who have been bailed out by the public purse.

So who are these people the state is so badly failing to meet the needs of? Of course the degree of need among this very large group varies but I certainly have met and worked with many people who to have their need described as severe would not be in any way exaggerating. I have met mothers who share their parents couch with their two sons, in a house of 11. She has no option but to wait and see, with the hope of getting on the insecure and increasingly difficult scheme of Rent Supplement. She cannot get work if there was work to be found because she cannot sleep a wink, giving up the couch so her sons will not go to school too tired to pay attention. She sits in her mothers kitchen and hope for some way out. Rent Supplement by its nature perpetuates her poverty trap, her only hope and yet only open to her if she is unemployed.

This is a poverty trap which now takes in 94,000 people. A short term stop gap to deal with the shortage of social housing when introduced it has no become the governments best weapon in pretending they are providing housing. Instead we have a system where the state is taking public money and subsidising private landlords who are in too many cases not living up to the standards set for them but all to rarely check upon. In order to get Rent Supplement you must be on the waiting list and be unemployed. Once you become part of the scheme you must find your accommodation which can be a difficult task given rising rents, poor standards, cramped conditions and the fact some landlords as a means of pre-emptive social cleansing deny any prospective tenants in receipt of rent allowance.

This scheme costs the state hundreds of millions of euro a year and provides not one extra social housing unit at the end of each year. If rent is dead money then rent supplement is much worse given the potential this money could have to rebuild communities and the social housing stock in a long term drive to provide for the needs of the people on these waiting lists.

The governments other solution has to pretend that NAMA is delivering a social dividend. While yes it is indeed supposed to be doing this and a Special Purpose Vehicle was created last year, it would seem to be a little bit of a charade. Having spent billions bailing out developers through NAMA we are left with 179 homes delivers in 3 years out of a promise of nearly 4000, up from an original 2000 which never materialised.

But this scheme also will not deliver 1 extra social housing unit in the long term. Instead developers in NAMA will be given an easy tenant for about 11 years. Estimates are that 2000 homes will cost 14 million to the state a year . A NAMA developers lines his pockets while nothing is done to solve the continuing lack of housing.

Sinn Fein have offered a solution. It was clearly laid out in our Job Creation package released at the end of last year. A novel approach it suggested that we actually provide housing as part of a public housing system. This Minister and the last Minister for Housing stated that no big house building would be possible but we have clearly shown it can be done.

In our Jobs Creation document we highlighted how through the National Pension reserve Fund, the European Investment Bank and incentivised investment from the private pension sector we could raise funds which would include 1 billion for improving and increasing our social housing stock.

This could fund the commencement of building of 9,000 homes in the next two years. Coupled with a renewed focus on the delivery of the 3,949 properties identified for housing by NAMA of which only 179 have so far been delivered this would take a considerable number of people off waiting lists.

This 1 billion could also be used to improve maintenance of social housing and refurbish dilapidated units in order to make them available for housing families.

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