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Homeless charity says proposal on council house offer refusals is a distraction tactic

Focus Ireland said the fact that people are turning down offers is actually “symptomatic of the failure of housing policy”.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

FOCUS IRELAND HAS said a proposal floated last week about families who refuse social housing offers is a distraction from the bigger housing issues the government is dealing with. 

It was reported last Sunday that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is considering creating new rules which would mean families who turn down two offers of social housing would not get another for five years. At the moment, anyone who rejects two offers is suspended from the waiting list for one year.

Focus Ireland campaigns and advocacy manager Roughan McNamara said the charity does not tend to see people turning down accommodation that is suitable for them.

“While there might well be a small number of cases where people turn them down for not great reasons, what we see is that when people do turn them down it is for genuine reasons, such as an offer in an area where there aren’t any amenities,” he explained to TheJournal.ie.

“In fact we had one mother who was being offered a place outside Dublin, she has two small children and I think she was offered this same place twice. She doesn’t have a car, it was in the middle of nowhere and there was no bus service.

These are some of the realities of cases that aren’t always put forward. Also, something that can be belittled in this discussion is the idea of uprooting someone from their local community. If people have already gone through the trauma of being homeless and the unsettlement of that, they have been through a lot already. Family supports and keeping kids in the stability of their schools shouldn’t be underestimated.

‘It’s a distraction’

He said the news of the proposal this week “did smack of blaming families and individuals” who refuse offers. 

McNamara drew a comparison between this topic and the controversial welfare fraud campaign launched by the government two years ago.

“They made a big deal of that and when you dug down into that it was a one day wonder with media headlines and the actual amount of fraud uncovered was significantly smaller than was being portrayed.

This is not the main issue – it’s a distraction from the main issue. 

He said the focus should be on the need to build more social housing and move away from the reliance on the private rental market, which he said is not just affecting people on the social housing waiting list. 

“It’s hiking up rents for everyone and cutting the available private rental stock for people who are trying to find a home.”

McNamara said the fact that people are refusing offers is actually “symptomatic of the failure of housing policy to deliver more social housing”. 

“If housing was being delivered we wouldn’t have people getting offers that weren’t suitable and we’d have vibrant communities around the country. ”

‘Draconian’

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin was also critical of the proposal, describing it as “draconian and unnecessary”.

He suggested a move to ‘choice based letting’ by all councils.

“This is an online allocation system in which applicants bid for properties. It provides the applicant with an element of control and choice while eliminating time wasted during the more traditional allocations process.

Choice based letting has been in operation for many years in councils such as South Dublin and should be the primary source of allocations across the state.

He also said he was concerned at the prominence given to the story and said he would urge the minister to provide evidence to support the proposal to the Oireachtas Housing Committee to allow for a full debate of the issue before any decision is made by Cabinet.

Progress

This week Minister Murphy released figures on new social housing builds, with 4,251 constructed in 2018. Though the figure was 4% below target, he said the government’s housing plan is now showing real progress in the delivery of new homes and new social housing homes.

He also said that these new builds as well as long-term leasing solutions are helping to “move away from Hap solutions”. The level of Hap did not increase over the year.

Murphy also noted that there had been a ‘moderation’ in rents and property prices.

This month it was revealed that nationwide rents rose by an average of 9.8% in the 12 months to December 2018, according to the latest quarterly Rental Report by Daft.ie.

While this marks another record high in national average rents, the rate of increase is the slowest in almost three years.

House prices are expected to rise by around 5% in 2019 after stabilising in the last quarter of 2018 according to a recent end-of-year report. 

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