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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 18 October, 2019
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Rebuilding Ireland: The long-anticipated housing plan is out - here's what's in it

The Taoiseach and ministers are announcing the long-anticipated housing plan today.

Updated at 3.20pm

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY, Housing Minister Simon Coveney and other Cabinet members have announced details of the government’s housing plan this afternoon.

It includes a plan to spend over €5 billion on social housing over the next five years. Hotels will only be used in limited circumstances to provide accommodation for homeless families from next year, the government is pledging.

The new social housing units would be in “mixed tenure” developments, Coveney said – meaning social housing would be placed in areas where people also own their homes outright.

“When driving into estates you are not going to know the difference,” the minister said.

The housing plan was one of the marquee projects announced in the programme for government. Published in May, that document set out an aim of building 25,000 new houses a year by 2020. Last year, building on just 8,000 homes was begun.

“In the next five years, we are going to provide about 50,000 more social houses for our people,” Coveney said.

This is about integrating communities so they can live together, grow up together and not be segregated on the basis of what they can afford and where they can afford to live.

The plan is set out in five ‘pillars’ – summarised under the following headings in the official report:
  • Address homelessness 
  • Accelerate social housing 
  • Build more homes 
  • Improve the rental sector
  • Utilise existing housing  

Source: Rebuilding Ireland/YouTube

Here are some of the ways homelessness will be tackled… 

  • Ensure that by mid-2017 hotels are only used in limited circumstances for emergency accommodation for families
  • This will be achieved by meeting housing needs through the Housing Assistance Payment and general housing allocations
  • Needs of homeless families will also be met by expanding the Rapid Build Housing programme (1,500 units)
  • And a Housing Agency Initiative will acquire vacant houses (1,500 units) 
  • Targets for tenancies to be provided by the Housing First team in Dublin will be tripled
  • Enhanced supports for homeless families with children; separately, enhanced supports for homeless people with mental health and addiction issues
  • Increased Rent Supplement and HAP limits (details of this were already revealed last month
  • A new initiative to provide financial and legal advice for people facing serious mortgage arrears 

And here are some of the plans for social housing…

  • 47,000 social housing units by 2021, supported by investment of €5.35 billion 
  • NTMA/Private sector Housing Fund to deliver increased housing supply 
  • Government to establish new Housing Delivery Office and Housing Procurement Unit 
  • Streamlined approval processes 
  • Mixed tenure developments on State lands and other lands

Entitled ‘Rebuilding Ireland’, the project is described by the government as an “action-driven plan that will result in a dramatic increase in the delivery of homes nationwide”.

Speaking at Government Buildings, the Taoiseach said it would give a clear roadmap to the country on how to proceed with housing.

The announcement of the plan follows a sharp rise in homelessness in recent years. Latest figures, from May, show there are nearly 6,000 people without a permanent home in the state.

3,969 adults and 1,994 children make up the overall figure. There are 955 families living homeless, 625 of which are single-parent families.

dub1 Geographical distribution of adult homelessness Source: Environ.ie

On the specific issue of families living in hotels, here’s how the government says the problem can be tackled:

The prevalence of homeless families and the utilisation of hotels for emergency accommodation is a much more significant issue in the Dublin Region than it is in the rest of the country.
Based on May 2016 data, there were 1,054 homeless families nationally, of which 913 were in the Dublin Region, and on a single night in May, 622 families in Dublin were accommodated in hotels.
Our intention is to move the existing group of families out of these hotel arrangements as quickly as possible, and to limit the extent to which such accommodation has to be used for new presentations. Our aim is that by mid 2017, hotels will only be used for emergency accommodation in very limited circumstances.
The report says the increases in Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment levels “in terms of supporting families to remain in rented accommodation, will play an important role in the achievement of this overall objective”.

Where families do find themselves in homelessness situations, “their needs will be met through the enhanced Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme and through general social housing allocations,” as well as by tapping into wider housing supplies to be delivered as part of the overall housing plan.

Mixed tenure 

Coveney stressed that there would be a focus on ‘mixed tenure’ housing – which is generally considered to mean that homes in areas targeted for social housing may be owned outright or rented from a local authority or housing association, amongst other options.

According to the report:

“Irrespective of the method of their housing provision, our citizens deserve to live in sustainable communities with an appropriate tenure mix.

“The size of the individual construction projects in the new social housing building programme reflects that clearer thinking on achieving good tenure mix.

Building a mix of smaller scale and infill developments is essential, if we are to deliver on our commitment to create long-term sustainable communities and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

rb12 Source: Rebuilding Ireland

EU rules 

The question of whether Ireland is prevented by EU rules from spending more money to build social housing was also raised today. ”If we could, we would spend more,” Coveney maintained.

He said his department was speaking to agencies such as the NTMA about funding vehicles that could finance social housing. He pointed to a model being used by Nama in which they pay for the building of houses and lease them long-term to approved housing bodies, which then sublet them to social housing tenants.

Coveney said this ensures the matter is ‘off-balance sheet’.

We do need to get clarity from Eurostat on what works and what doesn’t.

He said there were cases in the UK where social housing had been built and deemed off-balance sheet, only to be told by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, that it is in fact on-balance sheet.

“It has caused huge problems there, so we want to avoid that problem,” he said, adding that it would take time to clarify.

With reporting by Christina Finn.

FactCheck: Do EU rules prevent us from spending money to build more social housing?

Related: New scheme to help first-time buyers on the way – and it will be back-dated >

 

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