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This is what the government is being told to do to solve the housing crisis

The Housing and Homelessness Committee’s report is being launched today.

Image: Barry Cronin

BUILD AT LEAST 10,000 houses every year, give rent certainty to people, and allow local authorities buy properties from investors.

These are just some of the measures contained in the Housing and Homelessness Committee’s report launched today.

A number of key points are being recommended to government to tackle Ireland’s homeless crisis.

It has heard from many witnesses and received over 80 written submissions from the public and interested stakeholders since April of this year.

After meeting with ministers, housing agencies, homeless groups, and local authorities, the report finds that an increase in the social housing stock is needed urgently.

It states at least 50,000 units (an annual average of 10,000 per year) are needed now.

housing Source: Housing and Homelessness Committee

The report says the key question for government is whether it should borrow for social housing on or off balance sheet. Establishing a Housing Procurement Agency will be needed to deliver that number of houses, said the committee.

Houses needed now

The government is being told to get this number by any means necessary, either buying them up, refurbishing existing stock, or building new houses. 

Delays in building new houses is also something that needs to be tackled.

The committee said “unreasonable” planning delays are holding up the show, and said emergency powers need to be brought in to speed up the process.

Renters need more security and protection from evictions.

The report wants the government to introduce a scheme whereby a housing association or local authority can purchase a rental property from an existing investor, in what is being called a “Rent switch programme”.

Renter security

Other measures include:

  • Increasing security of tenure from the current four year period and establishing legal safeguards to allow tenants to remain in situ during and after sale of property. 
  • Amend the Residential Tenancies Act to outlaw the sale of property as grounds for evicting a tenant, except in exceptional circumstances where severe financial hardship can be proven by the landlord.
  • Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payments should be increased to reflect current market.

daft

To tackle rising rents, it’s suggested that rent reviews be linked to the Consumer Price Index.

Sinn Féin put this to idea to the Dáil this week, but it was voted down when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael joined forces to block it.

The report finds that long term solutions are needed for those that are in mortgage arrears.

Evictions 

Subject to advice of the Attorney General, the government should introduce legislation for a moratorium on home repossessions until such time as the government’s proposals are in place.

It said banks have been slow to adopt measures such as Mortgage-to- Rent schemes, split mortgages, debt write downs and downsizing. The committee said it is time for institutions to be open to these options.

Horse meat found in beef products Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

First time buyers

It’s calling for increased supports to first time buyers particularly to assist them in raising the necessary deposit.

It suggested a special savings scheme – with safeguards to ensure the scheme does not increase the cost of purchasing – should be introduced.

The Central Bank review of mortgage lending rules should have special regard for people in the rental sector, who must pay rent at the same time as complying with the Central Bank mortgage requirements should they wish to purchase a property, putting them in a particularly difficult financial position.

Emergency situation

The government has long said that it is restricted by what it is approved to spend under European Fiscal rules.

As it is being classed as an “emergency” situation by the Minister for the Environment Simon Coveney, the committee said he should “urgently seek flexibility from the European Commission on the application of the EU fiscal rules to the financing of social housing”.

If funding is not forthcoming, it should be sought elsewhere and as soon as possible.

Sources of funding could come from the Housing Finance Agency, Strategic Investment Fund, the Irish League of Credit Unions and Irish Pension Funds.

National Asset Management Agency (Nama) also has a role to play. Amending legislation would allow Nama to act as an agent for the provision of social housing, said the committee.

It’s recommended that its cash reserves be used to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis.

The government should, at a minimum, act before the summer recess and as a matter of urgency, fully and quickly implement the programme for government’s strategy to deal with mortgage arrears.

Committee chairman, John Curran TD said:

It is our hope that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney, will consider carefully our recommendations in his future policy formulation.

When appearing before the committee a few weeks ago, Minister Coveney said he would consider and look at whatever the Oireachtas housing committee bring forward.

Paul Murphy arrest Source: Niall Carson

Dissent in the committee 

Throughout the number of weeks, the committee has worked in agreement. However, one of its members stated today that she does not agree with key aspects of the report.

Anti-Austerity Alliance Ruth Coppinger TD announced that she will publish her own minority report on the actions needed to solve the housing crisis because of serious differences she has with the measures proposed in the report produced by the Housing Committee.

She says the targets contained in it “are not enough to solve the housing crisis”.

The funding model for the provision of housing is not realistic and it refuses to take the necessary measures, she said.

Reacting to the report, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Housing, Planning and Local Government Barry Cowen said funding with problems with the planning process must be tackled to help kick start housing construction.

Fianna Fáil will be bringing forward robust legislation based on the proposals contained in this report to achieve this. Our legislation will focus on developing strategic infrastructure to accelerate housing development and help avoid planning bottlenecks.

He said the report needs to be used by the government as “a blueprint for shaping its new housing policies across the public, private and rental sector”.

It cannot be allowed gather dust on a shelf.

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