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Ellis calls for building programme to deliver 9,000 social housing units

20 February, 2013 - by Dessie Ellis TD

Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Dessie Ellis closed this evening’s debate on his party’s private members’ motion on social housing and mortgage distress by calling on the government to revisit the personal insolvency act and remove the final say from lenders and to embark on a building programme to deliver 9,000 social housing units within two years.

Deputy Ellis’ speech follows:

Today it was reported that AIB is to increase its variable interest rates that will affect 70,000 households. If proof was needed that the banks are immune to the difficulty faced daily by struggling mortgage-holders then this is it. This move by AIB should be a call to action by this government to allow an independent body to impose settlements on banks.

Action has been promised again and again but the figures show these promises have not been lived up to.

Sinn Fein has repeatedly showed there is an alternative. We are nearly tired of reminding the government that there are alternatives and we have worked hard to present them to this government, to give them options we felt they could support. But these proposals have fallen on deaf ears. Last night and tonight we make that plea again for government benches to listen, to work with us to put its focus on finally beginning to resolve these outstanding issues which worry the people of this state every day.

Equivocation by the government and its failure to take decisive action has unfortunately added to the crisis.

Action is required. The first step now must be to revisit the Personal Insolvency Act and remove the final say from the lenders. As long as the lenders have a veto there is little reason for them to seek fair compromises.

We are calling for ‘independent agreements on mortgage distress’ to be decided by ‘a mortgage restructuring panel’ appointed by the Minister.

This panel would be empowered to act as an arbitrator with the authorisation to impose on both parties agreements aimed at prioritising the protection of the family home.

We of course accept that Fine Gael and Labour, or certainly this government did not create the serious problems we face particularly in the case of the social housing shortage but it falls on them now to address the problem. The crisis was a collaboration of most governments since the early 1980’s who sought in the best traditions of Thatcher to push private ownership over public provision, not in the interest of improving the conditions of housing for working people but in order to remove the states responsibility for housing.

In fact the Labour Party just five years ago co-signed a motion in this house along with Sinn Féin which called for the construction of 10,000 social housing units a year for the following three years. This was against the back drop of falling revenue and a housing crisis which was moderate by comparison to the one we face today, with 60,000 on waiting lists rather than today’s 100,000.

The Labour Party had not then given up on large scale social housing projects, but of course they had not yet been shackled and dragged to the right by Fine Gael. It is hard to believe we are dealing with the same party.

Last night Joe Costello told us that the government was on target to deliver numbers similar to that called for in this motion. That is not correct. The numbers may be similar but what they represent is completely different. Joe Costello’s numbers represent more stop gap measures but no solutions.

Our motion calls for the commencement of a building program to deliver 9,000 homes within roughly two years. These are not new social leasing opportunities which will be private profit at public expense and revert back into the hands of developers, these are not voluntary bodies renting or buying properties taking on credit they cannot be sure they can afford or shared ownership homes which are surrendered, or new rent supplement recipients or people on RAS.

This is a proposal to build real bricks and mortar social housing which will remain social housing indefinitely and create a sustainable and secure home for families across the state.

This is a real proposal to compliment short term measures like those I previously mentioned which house people but do not solve or go any way to solving the housing crisis.

In short, it is time for the government to get involved and get real and face up to its responsibility to those in mortgage distress and those lingering on waiting lists which will only get longer if nothing is done.

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