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'Where will they go?': Coveney says invalid notices to quit should be challenged

The minister rounded on Sinn Féin’s policies to scrap the Help to Buy and First Home Scheme.

ENTERPRISE MINISTER SIMON Coveney has said invalid notices to quit should be challenged by tenants. 

Taking Leaders’ Questions while the Taoiseach is in Belfast today, Coveney cited today’s report by housing charity Threshold which finds that 75% of notices to quit their advisors dealt with that cited renovation were deemed invalid. 

A number of opposition TDs raised personal cases from constituents facing eviction today in the Dáil. 

Responding, Coveney said “many of them [notices to quit] aren’t” valid, adding “up to half of the eviction notices are not actually valid and should be challenged”.

Scrapping Help to Buy grant 

Coveney defended his government’s record on housing, and rounded on Sinn Féin’s policies to scrap the Help to Buy and First Home Scheme.

He said Sinn Féín speaks about helping a generation get a roof over their head, but a motion the party introduced yesterday seeks to scrap the First Time buyers grant.

“This has provided 38,000 young families with the ability to get on the housing ladder,” said the minister.

Housing spokesperson for Sinn Féín Eoin Ó Broin previously told The Journal that he would scrap the housing schemes almost immediately if he became housing minister in the future.

McDonald in an interview with The Journal last year said if she were in government, her party wants to “wind them down very quickly”.

She said this would “go hand-in-hand with accelerated [housing] delivery”, adding that there would be no “cliff edge” that would end housing supports immediately. 

Coveney, who served as housing minister from 2016 to 2017, said that a combination of social housing, affordable housing, affordable rental, cost rental, supported rental accommodation and private housing delivery was needed.

He accused Sinn Féín of being overly focused on social housing alone, stating that the government is trying to deliver an array of housing tenures. 

“Whereas you want to be in a government that wants to continue to focus solely on one kind of tenure, which is social housing. We believe in both.

“We believe that people who want to buy their own homes need a leg up from the State to do that. You don’t believe in that. We believe in affordable housing. We believe in cost rental, and we believe also in social housing,” he said.

Government said it needs to deliver somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 housing units per year.

“We know that, and we need to be above 10,000 social houses per year and there needs to be a significant mix of affordable housing,” he said.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said that people were being “robbed of the roof over their heads” due to the government’s “cruel” decision to end the eviction ban at the end of March.

‘Where are people to go?’

Reading out the stories of four people who have been evicted or are facing the threat of eviction, she repeated a question asked before of where these people would go, a question that was also posed by other politicians during the debate. 

Coveney repeated the government line that extending the eviction ban would have made the situation worse, and said that 10,000 social houses were provided for people last year.

“I’m not suggesting that the pace of delivery of social houses, affordable houses, cost rental accommodation, is happening at a fast enough pace right now, but it is accelerating all of the time,” he added.

“When I became housing minister a number of years ago, local authorities in the previous year had built less than 100 new social houses and now we’re seeing 7,500 to 8,000, and we will deliver significantly more than that this year.

“I know that there are many households that are worried and are concerned and there are far too many people homeless in this country. But we are responding by increasing supply – which is the answer,” he said.

Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns told the minister that “housing is now only affordable for those on the highest incomes”, and that rents are “astronomical” for workers.

Coveney criticised her statement, sayin: “But this statement that you make that nobody can afford to buy a house when you know the stats show 38,000 people have bought their first home on the back of the First Time Buyers grant, that I introduced as housing minister, is misrepresenting the facts.”

She responded to say that she had said only those on the highest incomes can afford homes, and that her criticisms were not based on one year in government, but 12 years of Fine Gael in government.

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