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Policy issues concerning Housing

Local government has the potential to transform our communities but that potential is not being realised.  It is time to harness this potential and deliver more power locally.

In 2017, the Government introduced Family Hubs as an alternative to hotels and B&Bs and described as a “first step” for families experiencing homelessness.  Later that year, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) warned of the risks associated with Family Hubs, of institutionalising families and normalising family homelessness.  This warning was ignored, with Minister Murphy urging local authorities to build more rapid build Family Hubs at the Second Housing Summit in January 2018, and increased funding for Family Hubs provided in Budget 2019. 

A report published by the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) this week (18 April 2019) shows just how prescient IHREC’s warnings were, as children as young as 10 describe their living conditions as being “like a prison”.

There are over 67,000 tenants paying market rent spending more than 40% of their disposable income on housing costs.  Clearly more affordable, sustainable housing is needed. When added to the almost 72,000 households on the social housing waiting list, and the 54,000 households in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), the true scale of the housing crisis becomes clear.

According to the latest data released by the Central Bank of Ireland (the Central Bank), non-bank entities held 84,658 home mortgages up to the end of 2018, of which 25,469 are held by unregulated loan owners.  While a larger percentage of these loans are in late stage mortgage arrears than those held by banks, an increasing proportion are not in arrears.  Borrowers who made the decision to enter into one of the most major contracts of their lives, the mortgage on their home, may not be aware of who owns that mortgage and what, if any, protections they have if they get into difficulty making payments.  The Oireachtas is currently considering the No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019 which aims to curb mortgage transfers without the consent of the borrower, with some saying it’s a step too far and will damage the banking industry.  But what about the borrowers?  In terms of consumer protection, does it go far enough?

Among the key findings from the National Social Monitor - European Edition are that quality of housing, the burden of housing costs, financial distress, difficulty in making ends meet and the environment are key issues in Ireland and across the European Union.  As we face into European Elections in May these issues are certain to feature strongly.

The Central Bank issued its quarterly Residential Mortgage Arrears & Repossession Statistics report for Q4 2018.  While the number of mortgages in arrears has again decreased, the rise in sales to non-bank entities of both performing and non-performing loans continues to put homeowners at risk.

The release announcing the latest social housing output data last week would indicate that Rebuilding Ireland is exceeding its targets in the provision of social housing to those on low incomes.  Unfortunately, the reality is that 45% of local authorities failed to meet their build targets and reliance on the private rented market to provide answers continues.

The most recent Daft.ie Report shows that, while the rate of rent inflation may now be slowing, rents are still higher than they were before the Recession, with the average national rent reaching €1,347 per month.  Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's main housing policy document, relies heavily on the private rented sector as a sort of 'societal cure all', however this reliance (supported through subsidies and tax reliefs) is only serving to drive up rents until they are beyond the reach of many households.  Add to that the Minister's latest directive, that families who turn down more two social housing options will be suspended from the housing list for five years, and we clearly have a Government out of touch with the reality of low income households.

A study published in the Journal of Epidemiol & Community Health has found that ‘housing tenure, cost burden and desire to stay in own home’ are all associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker associated with infection and stress.  With the number of households in private rented accommodation continuing to rise in Ireland, what does this mean for future generations and what policy responses are needed?

700,000 on healthcare waiting lists, 500,000 homes without broadband, over 11,000 people homeless – a result of Government policy failing to tackle causes - Social Justice Ireland publishes National Social Monitor Winter 2018.

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