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File photo of a rough sleeper in Dublin city centre. Leah Farrell/
budget 2020

Here's how the government plans to tackle homelessness, housing issues and high rents

Fianna Fáil said the government’s response to the housing crisis has been “completely ineffective”.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS allocated €1.1 billion for social housing and an additional €20 million for homeless services as part of a range of measures in Budget 2020 to tackle housing issues. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said a total of €166 million will be spent on homelessness services next year to “support people in emergency accommodation and increase preventative measures, long-term support and day services”.

Opposition parties were quick to state that an increase in funding amounts to an admission that homelessness figures will likely continue to rise in 2020.

Figures from the Department of Housing show that, for seven consecutive months, more than 10,000 people have been homeless in Ireland, including almost 4,000 children.

In August 2018, official figures counted 9,527 people as homeless; this increased to 10,275 in August 2019 – a jump of almost 8%. The €20 million added to funding to tackle homelessness amounts to a 13.7% increase.

Donohoe said the government will allocate over €2.5 billion to the Housing Programme in 2020, describing this as “an unprecedented level of investment”.

In terms of social housing, the government has allocated capital funding of over €1.1 billion to support the delivery of over 11,000 new social homes next year.

“A further 12,000 units will be delivered in 2021. I am providing an additional €80 million for the Housing Assistance Payment scheme next year.

“This funding will support the existing tenancies availing of the payment, as well as an additional 15,750 new tenancies in 2020,” Donohoe said.

‘National scandal’ 

Responding to Donohoe’s speech, Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, described the country’s housing crisis as “a national scandal” and said the government’s response has been “completely ineffective”.

Finna Fáil has agreed to facilitate the Budget as part of its Confidence and Supply Agreement with the government.  

“Social Housing development has been marked by missed targets and a heavy overreliance on the private sector. The government’s praise of the number of homes secured though HAP ignores the fact it is a sticking plaster to cover up a lack of direct social housing build,” Cowen said.

Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin housing spokesperson, echoed these sentiments, saying measures in the Budget “will deliver just 8,500 real social homes” compared to 22,300 subsidised private sector tenancies.

Homelessness charities have welcomed increased investment but said it falls short of what is needed given the scale of the problem.

Francis Doherty, Head of Communications at Peter McVerry Trust said: “Unfortunately, the €20 million increase in the funding in 2020 will be split across emergency accommodation, prevention measures as well as day services.”

Doherty added that the rate of new homelessness cases is at its highest on record, and more needs to be done. 

Donohoe said, in order to assist with the provision of new affordable homes, an additional €17.5 million is being provided to the Land Development Agency and €186 million will be allocated for the Serviced Site Fund and Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund next year.

Some €130 million in Urban Regeneration and Development funding will also be made available in 2020. Donohoe said this will “support projects that will contribute to the rejuvenation of Ireland’s five main cities and other large towns”.

Renting and buying

“The high cost of renting is a key concern for this government,” Donohoe said in his speech. However, the Budget contains little in terms of the rental sector.

Almost €2 million in additional funding will be given to the Residential Tenancies Board to “support their increased powers to investigate and sanction non-compliance with Rent Pressure Zone measures”. There are now 44 RPZs in operation throughout Ireland.

Opposition parties have said the continuing increase in the cost of rents show that RPZs are not working. An RTB report from last month found that the standardised national average rent is over €1,200 per month.

Niamh Randall, spokesperson for housing association Respond, expressed concerns that a national affordable rental scheme was not introduced in the Budget.

She said such a scheme is “urgently needed to address the housing needs of so-called intermediate households; that is households that won’t qualify for a mortgage and are really struggling to rent in the private rental sector but are not eligible for social housing”.

The help-to-buy scheme, through which 15,000 homes have been purchased or built first-time buyers, will be extended for a further two years to the end of 2021. The Living City Initiative, a tax incentive scheme for ‘special regeneration areas’, will be extended to the end of 2022.

Stamp duty applicable to non-residential property will be increased by 1.5% from midnight – up from 6% to 7.5%.

“The commercial property market continues to perform strongly and I expect that this increase can be borne by the sector without any significant impact,” Donohoe said.

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