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Social Housing Strategy 2020 fails to address the scale of the problem

Social Justice Ireland welcomes the publication of ‘Social Housing Strategy 2020: Support, Supply and Reform’ which is the most comprehensive attempt to address the social housing problem in a generation.  However the strategy fails to deal with the scale of the social housing challenge facing Ireland today.  Without addressing the issue of scale, the social housing problem will not be resolved.

There are 89,872 households, almost 230,000 people on the waiting list for social housing.  The plan detailed in Government’s ‘Social Housing Strategy 2020’ is to provide an additional 35,000 social housing units at a cost of €3.8 billion.  The plan aims to meet the housing needs of 75,000 households through local authority provision via the private rental sector using Housing Assistance Payment and Rental Accommodation scheme.  Ireland has a major problem in terms of the supply of housing units at present, therefore it is extremely unlikely that the private rental sector will be able to provide appropriate accommodation to all those who need it.  The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), designed to replace rent supplement, is currently being piloted in 7 local authorities and 273 cases have been transferred to HAP.  The Government aims to have 8,000 cases moved to HAP by the end of 2015.  There is still a significant distance to travel in terms of rolling out the HAP system nationally and transferring those people currently reliant on rent supplement onto HAP. 

At present the Government's strategy will not fully or adequately address Ireland’s social housing problem.  The private rental sector will not be able to solve Ireland’s social housing problem.  A significant multi-billion euro investment is required in order to increase the supply of social housing units.  The cost of ensuring a sufficient supply of social housing units for those currently on the waiting list is in the region of €13 billion euro.  Government will need to examine a vehicle for ‘off balance sheet’ financing in order to provide sufficient social housing units and to ensure that it complies with the fiscal requirements of the Stability and Growth Pack and the Fiscal Compact.  

Social Justice Ireland has proposed that the potential for a National Housing Agency be explored.  This agency would be answerable to the Minister for Environment and would assume charge of the current stock of local authority houses and a range of other issues related to social housing.  Such a body could have responsibility for the delivery of social housing and could also take on the role of providing finance to voluntary and cooperative housing agencies.

The National Economic and Social Council has also made a number of proposals in relation to social housing, including an examination of possible funding mechanisms and policies to grow cost-rental provision.

A podcast of Social Justice Ireland's housing policy proposals is available here.