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Policy issues concerning Housing

The impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus, has highlighted the weaknesses in both Ireland’s social and economic structures. One such area is housing, particularly for those in communal and cramped accommodation who cannot social distance, self-isolate or, in some cases, avail of adequate washing facilities.  In the latest episode of our podcast, Social Justice Matters, we chat (remotely) to Orla Hegarty, Architect and Lecturer in the School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy in UCD, to discuss housing policy, construction safety and COVID-19, and the lessons to be learned for housing from this crisis.

The most pressing piece of health advice, apart from washing your hands, to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for social distancing.  But for thousands of people living in emergency homeless accommodation, Direct Provision, refuges and Travellers living in cramped conditions, social distancing just isn’t an option.  The announcement yesterday of 650 spaces being made available is a welcome step, but doesn’t go nearly far enough.  There are over 245,000 vacant properties across Ireland.  Property website Daft.ie reported a 13% increase in rental advertisements this month.  Now is the time to utilise emergency powers and #MoveTheVulnerableOut.

Additional supply of affordable homes is a key part of addressing the housing crisis, but what of those in precarious housing situations?  In this article we look at those on the social housing waiting lists and those in mortgage difficulty.

The expansion and contraction of capital spending on housing by central government demonstrates just how volatile this basic necessity for low-income families is, and how responsive to economic shocks. 

Following triple-digit rates of increase in child and family homelessness since 2014, a decrease in the number of homeless people accessing emergency accommodation was evident in the months of November and December 2019.  A month-on-month decrease in December figures is expected, as Christmas approaches and more emergency beds are made available, however the decrease in November is unusual.  Is this a statistical anomaly or is child and family homelessness really decreasing?  With the state of data collection on homelessness in Ireland described as “statistical obfuscation if not corruption” in a 2019 report commissioned by the European Commission, it can be hard to tell.  There is a need for robust data collection in all policy areas, but particularly those affecting the most vulnerable. In its Policy Brief on Affordable Housing:  Better data and policies to fight homelessness in the OECD, the OECD looks at ways to improve data collection, and therefore evidence-based policies, on homeless. 

There are 10,448 people accessing emergency accommodation, including 1,685 families.  There are 68,693 households on the social housing waiting lists.  There are more vacant homes than households on the social housing waiting list in every county.  Read Social Justice Ireland's Election Briefing on Housing for an outline of a number of key challenges facing Ireland and some policy proposals that should be in the next Programme for Government.

Ageing will be a dominant theme in the 21st century according to The United Nations World Economic and Social Survey. How we think about ageing can impact the policies we introduce and the supports we deem necessary.  Dr. Diarmuid O'Shea (Irish Gerontological Society) presented on the theme of ageing as an opportunity to add healthy years to life at our Social Policy Conference and emphasised that health and social care expenditures for older people need to be seen as an investment, not a cost.

Rebuilding Ireland srategy is not working. Given that this strategy fell far short of the scale of the response required in the first place, the failure to deliver the modest targets in all five pillars is a major indictment of Government policy. At our 32nd Annual Social Policy Conference, we reviewed the Government's housing strategy from the perspective of the young and old living in Ireland today and found it wanting.

In allocating just €2m of additional funding to the RTB for investigating and sanctioning non-compliance with the Rent Pressure Zone measures, and no additional funding for rent inspections and sanctions under other landlord and tenant legislation, the Government has shown that they are not serious about protecting tenants. 

Extending the Help to Buy Scheme for an additional two years subsidises the better off at the expense of providing sustainable and affordable homes for those in most need.

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