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Q+A: Here's where Ireland's political parties stand on housing and homelessness ahead of the election

We asked each political party where it stands on housing and homelessness policies in Ireland.

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WITH THE GENERAL election less than a week away, TheJournal.ie has been asking each political party for their positions on a variety of issues affecting people across Ireland. 

Throughout the rest of the campaign, we’ll be publishing their responses on issues that matter. So far, we have published Q&A pieces on cycling policy, insurance and agriculture.

Over the past few years, the homelessness and housing crisis in Ireland has continued to deepen. Figures for December showed that 9,731 people were in emergency accommodation, including 6,309 adults and 3,422 children. 

Looking at housing, the latest quarterly index from the Residential Tenancies Board, published in December, found that the average rent for a home in Ireland was now €1,243 per month.

So, with those figures in mind, where do Ireland’s political parties stand on the issues ahead of general election 2020? 

We asked each party a series of questions…

What specific measures will you take to tackle the homeless and housing crisis in Ireland

Fine Gael: In response to TheJournal.ie’s questionsFine Gael said it plans to increase new home builds to 35,000-40,000 over the lifetime of the next government. 

It aims to add more than 60,000 homes to the stock of social housing over the next five years. The party plans to expand the Help to Buy scheme to allow first time buyers claim a tax rebate of up to €30,000 or 10% of a deposit needed to buy or build a new home. 

In relation to homelessness, Fine Gael plans to continue funding to the Homeless HAP place finder series in local authorities to help individuals and families move out of emergency accommodation.  It said Budget 2020 has allocated €166 million for homeless services.

Fianna Fáil: The party said in its response to TheJournal.ie that it is committed to building 50,000 new social housing units by 2025. It said these units would be made available as part of the ‘Home First’ strategy. 

It also aims to increase Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment supports. 

The party plans to increase homeless funding to €250 million per annum. 

Fianna Fáil plans to set up a Homeless Prevention Unit with the Department of Housing to develop and support effective prevention actions. 

Fianna Fáil also seeks to establish a “preventing homelessness” fighting fund. It said: “We will set up a rolling acquisition fund in the Housing Agency to purchase repossessed units and keep those tenants in place. At current repossession numbers we will allocated €168 million to purchase all repossessed Buy to Let units.” 

Sinn Féin: Over the lifetime of the government, the party said in response to TheJournal.ie’s questions that it would deliver:

  • 100,000 public homes on public land; including 60,000 social homes, 30,000 affordable purchase homes and 10,000 affordable rental homes
  • Affordable purchase homes would be available at, and below €250,000
  • Affordable rental homes would be available at and below €900 per month
  • Eligibility for affordable housing would be set at €50,000 for a single person and €75,000 for a couple.

The party said this would be accompanied by “increasing the stock of affordable rental accommodation and reducing the State’s reliance on subsidised private rental accommodation to meet social need”. 

Labour: Labour’s housing spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan told TheJournal.ie that the party plans to build 80,000 social and affordable homes on public land to buy and rent over the next five years. 

She added that the party will freeze and cap rents until enough homes have been built.  In relation to homelessness, O’Sullivan said the party will “strengthen the Housing First approach”. 

Housing First aims to reduce and end rough sleeping and long-term homelessness. More information about the model can be found here.

Social Democrats: In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Social Democrats said it would commit to eradicating homelessness in the next five years by adopting a Housing First approach. 

Green Party: The Green Party responded a number of the questions put to it by TheJournal.ie. In relation to the questions it did not respond to, the party directed us to its manifesto. 

The party, in its manifesto, says that it “believes the State needs to play a stronger role in increasing the supply of housing to ease pressure on communities”.  If elected, some of the goals the party has includes: 

  • Implementing a cost-rental model for the delivery of public housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for the construction and management of homes
  • Calling for a referendum on the right to housing
  • Taxing vacant lands and buildings that could be used for using
  • Implementing a strategic plan for deep retrofitting of the Irish building stock
  • Mandating that by 2022 all new buildings in Ireland will be designed and constructed to zero carbon standard. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the party said it would set up a state construction company to build social and affordable houses cheaply.  It also plans to: 

  • Stop the sale of public land to private developers
  • Impose a cap on mortgage interest payments charged by the banks and building societies so they do not charge rates well in excess of ECB rates
  • Declare a national housing emergency so that the state can borrow to build
  • Ban evictions while such an emergency is in force. 

Irish Freedom Party: The party did not respond to individual questions put to it by TheJournal.ie. However, it provided a statement outlining its housing commitments. These include:

  • Cutting immigration substantially to relieve stress on demand
  • Investing in void or neglected social housing to make the units more habitable 
  • Incentivising the conversion of existing buildings to housing in towns and villages by doubling tax relief on construction-related costs.  

What specific measures will you take to support chronic rough sleepers

Fine Gael: The party said it is committed to creating another 400 Housing First tenancies by the end of 2021. Housing First primarily caters for adults, and has already housed people who would have been seen as the most entrenched, long-standing rough sleepers. Fine Gael added that it will “continue to fund provision of emergency beds so no-one has to sleep on the streets”. 

Fianna Fáil: The party has outlined numerous plans to tackle the issue of rough sleeping in Ireland. These include: 

  • Giving Hiqa mandate to inspect standards in hostels and other emergency accommodation.
  • Increasing funding to drug-free hostels.
  • Increasing funding to hostels to reduce shared accommodation and ensure every guest can be given the dignity and security of their own space with a locked door. 
  • Working with stakeholders, case workers and homeless people on a suite of measures to encourage rough sleepers off the streets and into emergency accommodation. 

Sinn Féin: The party promises to “set a date for ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough”. It said this would be achieved by: 

  • Doubling the provision of Housing First housing allocations
  • Phasing out the use of dormitory-style emergency accommodation for homeless people within the lifetime of the government
  • Placing a legal obligation on local authorities to put in place homeless prevention plans for those at imminent risk of homelessness.  

Labour: Jan O’Sullivan said the party plans to implement a Housing First approach to long-term homelessness. 

Social Democrats: The party noted that using the Housing First approach has been shown to be effective in combating the issue of street sleeping. 

Green Party: The party outlines in its manifesto that it plans to extend the Housing First pilot project run in Dublin by the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland to other parts of the country without delay and resourcing the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it would create state-funded emergency accommodation facilities rather than rely on charities. It also pledged to employ more outreach workers and develop “proper” mental health services. 

Irish Freedom Party: The party plans to provide more temporary accommodation shelters to help rough sleepers. 

National Party: In its answer the party claimed the deportation of people seeking asylum in Ireland would free up spaces in emergency homeless accommodation.

Where do you see the level of homelessness being by the end of the next term in government

Fine Gael: The party said that it expects its “growing social housing delivery programme to help reduce the number of families and individuals in homelessness”. 

Fianna Fáil: The party said it aims to “end long-term homelessness and rough sleeping over the next term of government”. 

Sinn Féin: The party said it would “set a target date for ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough”. 

Social Democrats: The party said that “hugely depends on who forms the next government”. 

Green Party: The Green Party told TheJournal.ie that “this depends on who’s in government”. 

“We propose a national housing plan to build public housing on public lands. If properly funded and delivered, this has capacity to stop and radically reverse the increase in the number of people being made homeless,” the party said. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it can “solve the homelessness crisis in the lifetime of the next Dáil provided there is a dramatic change of policy and ideology”. 

National Party: The party said that “without a dramatic change in government policy, the only thing that might reduce homelessness is an economic crash along 2008 lines”. 

Are you in favour of implementing a rent freeze across Ireland

Fine Gael: The party responded to this question with “No. No evidence has been presented to suggest that a rent freeze would not impact on supply.” 

Fianna Fáil: The party said that its “independent legal advice indicates that a rent freeze is unconstitutional”. Instead, it plans to introduce a €600 rent tax credit and a new national rent deposit scheme, along with a new 33% SSIA top-up scheme. 

Sinn Féin: The party said it is in favour of implementing a three-year nationwide rent freeze. It said a Sinn Féin Housing Minister “would also take emergency action to address the rental crisis by reducing rents by up to €1,500 a year with a refundable tax credit”. 

Labour: Jan O’Sullivan said the party is in favour of implementing a rent freeze “until enough homes have been built that people can afford”. 

Social Democrats: The party is in favour of implementing a temporary rent freeze. 

Green Party: The party has a section in its manifesto titled “protecting renters”. This contains a number of proposals to address the issue of insecure tenancies but it does not mention the party’s stance on a rent freeze. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it would implement an immediate rent freeze, followed by the possibility of legally enforced rent reductions. 

National Party: The National Party is not in favour of implementing a rent freeze and it claimed “the only effect would be to take supply out of the market”. 

Rebuilding Ireland has recently increased its existing interest rate of 2.25% to 2.995%, do you plan to reverse these increases

Rebuilding Ireland is Fine Gael’s six-year programme that seeks to tackle the housing and homeless crisis.  In recent weeks, the scheme has raised its interest rates. 

The previous interest rate for a 25-year mortgage of 2% has risen to 2.745% and the rate for a 30-year mortgage has gone from 2.25% to 2.995%.

Fine Gael: The Rebuilding Home Loan Scene was introduced by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in 2018. The party said “several recommendations to improve the functioning of the scene were proposed by the ESRI which will be considered in due course”.  It added: “However, the recommendation by the ESRI to increase the interest rate on newly issued RIHL mortgages is being implemented from January 2020.” 

Fianna Fáil: The party said it will “review the scheme’s interest rates and ensure it has adequate finance”. 

Sinn Féin: The party noted that “the reason behind the interest rate is not yet fully clear”. The party said it believes the incoming government should review it with a view of reducing it if legally possible. 

Labour: O’Sullivan said Labour plans to reverse these increases. 

Social Democrats: The party did not clarify whether it would reverse these specific increases, but said “there are significant issues with how the Rebuilding Ireland home-loans are operating” and that the “entire system needs a complete review”. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party responses to this query with “Absolutely, yes”. 

National Party: The party said that “a reversal, even a further reduction here has some merit”. 

Do you plan to continue the Help-to-Buy scheme for first-time buyers

Fine Gael: The party said it will continue the scheme. It plans to expand it to a maximum of €30,000 or 10% of the purchase or building cost of a new home. 

Fianna Fáil: The party plans to continue the scheme and expand it to “ensure it is adequately financed for future demand”. 

Sinn Féin: The party said it would allow the scheme to run its course but it would not renew it. Instead, Sinn Féin said it would deliver 30,000 “truly affordable” homes that would be sold at or below €250,000.

Labour: O’Sullivan said that existing support for Help-To-Buy will continue. She added that, alongside building social and affordable homes and freezing rent, Labour will introduce a rent-to-buy scheme “where after three years all the rent paid counts as a deposit towards home purchase”. 

Social Democrats: The Social Democrats said the Help-To-Buy scheme is “not a viable solution” to the housing crisis. The party did not provide alternatives. 

Green Party: The party told TheJournal.ie: “[This scheme] has had a low uptake. In our view, increasing the supply of good quality homes built on public lands will provide more affordability and reduce the need for market interventions such as the Help to Buy scheme.” 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it would fulfill existing commitments but then shift policy to create more affordable homes.  It said the “key to this will be strict controls on the price of building land to stop speculation”. 

National Party: The party responded simply with “Yes”. 

Do you plan to continue the Rebuilding Ireland programme

Fine Gael: The party said the programme “is working” and that it “will be updated to reflect the actions needed to continue to address” the crisis. 

Fianna Fáil: The party said it does not plan to continue Rebuilding Ireland. Instead, it plans to launch a new housing plan. 

Sinn Féin: The party said it will introduce a “radical” change of policy and increased investment to meet social and affordable need. It claimed that Rebuilding Ireland has “failed”. 

Labour: O’Sullivan said Labour will take “whatever is working” in the Rebuilding Ireland programme and “roll it into our new approach, but we will not be bound by the restrictions and limitations of the government’s programme”. 

Social Democrats: The party said it has published its own “detailed housing policy which prioritises the use of public lands to build 100,000 social and affordable homes”. 

Green Party: The Green Party told TheJournal.ie that it would review the entire Rebuilding Ireland programme and seek to implement a national housing plan “with significantly less reliance on private developers and on the private market”. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it would not continue the Rebuilding Ireland programme. 

National Party: The Rebuilding Ireland programme is “not an adequate replacement to building more public housing”, the party said. It said the scheme “is a help” and that it would not replace it, but “supplement it”. 

Do you support the system of family hubs and what specific measures would you take to support families who are homeless

Fine Gael: The party noted that family hubs are “by no means perfect” but added that “they offer more secure and better quality accommodation for families until the social housing programme meets demand”. 

Fianna Fáil: The party said family hubs “should only be used on a temporary basis”. 

Fianna Fáil also plans to launch a Housing First for Families pilot project within homeless funding. 

Sinn Féin: The party did not confirm directly whether it was in favour of family hubs. It noted, however, that “there will always be a need for good quality emergency accommodation for homeless families”. It added that no family should be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. 

Labour: O’Sullivan said that Labour’s approach is to “focus on getting families housed and phasing out family hubs as soon as possible”. 

Social Democrats: The party said that “no family should have to live in a hub”. It did not detail specific alternative accommodation options for families. 

Green Party: The party does not mention family hubs in its manifesto. However, the party told TheJournal.ie that it supports the Housing First model and propose extending the Housing First pilot projects run in Dublin to other parts of the country. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit: The party said it would phase family hubs out and “give people proper homes”. 

National Party: Reiterating an answer to an earlier question, the party again claimed that emptying direct provision centres would help reduce the need for family hubs.

What measures will you take to move the number of people in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment into social housing

HAP is a form of rental benefit payment to assist lower-income households.

Under HAP, a tenant’s main rent is paid directly to a landlord, with the tenant paying a differential rent to their local council. The tenants must cover their own deposit, and no rent is paid by the council in advance of them entering the home.

Fine Gael: The party said that as their social housing building programme continues to expand, “fewer families and individuals in need of long-term social housing supports will be accommodated in HAP and RAS tenancies”. 

Fianna Fáil: The party plans t build 50,000 new social homes by 2025. These homes, it said, “will be targeted at ending the overreliance on HAP and rent supplement”. 

Sinn Féin: The party promises to introduce a “major housing reform programme” with a Public Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The bill would include measures such as: 

  • Defining social housing supports such as ASH, RAS, and HAP as temporary supports for those waiting to secure permanent public housing.
  • Enabling all current ASH, RAS, and HAP tenants to return to the principal housing list with their full years intact.
  • Facilitating social housing applications to move from one local authority to another through the introduction of a social housing applicants’ passport.
  • Allowing approved housing bodies to access the capital advance local facility to deliver mixed social and affordable public housing schemes.

Social Democrats: The party said the HAP scheme is a “huge cost for a very poor outcome”. It said that if investment was made on public lands to deliver “significant numbers of actual homes” there would be a “far better long-term solution to the constant cycle of property booms and crashes”.

Green Party: The party says in its manifesto that it plans to reform HAP to “drive investment into the provision of new social housing units rather than relying on sourcing from the private sector”. 

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