The Simon Communities in Ireland have said that they welcome some of the measures set out in the two phase Social Housing Strategy, which was launched today. The Strategy has vision and is ambitious however it does not address the immediate homelessness crisis for people who are living on the edge from day to day. The Strategy includes 37 actions, none of which names homelessness specifically. Homelessness is the most acute form of social housing need and should be prioritised.
Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities speaking about the current homeless crisis said:
“We are deeply concerned that for the people we work with, the people trapped in emergency accommodation and the people who are sleeping on the streets tonight and every night, the Social Housing Strategy does not have a response to meet their needs. It is a long term plan that will take 18 months to two years to begin to deliver. That is just too long to wait for over 2,500 adults in emergency accommodation all around the country not to mention the almost 800 children in hotel accommodation*. We welcome investment in social housing announced as part of Budget 2015, and reiterated today, however this will only deliver 7, 500 new homes next year which will address the housing need of only 8% of those on the housing waiting list. The Simon Communities across Ireland have seen a significant rise in the need for their services in recent years reporting a 24% increase in our most recent annual report. The prolonged economic crisis along with the decline in the availability of affordable housing for vulnerable people and those on low incomes has coincided with rising demand for homeless services.”
“The crisis is continuing to escalate with nearly 90,000 people on the social housing waiting list. This is a time when rents are rapidly increasing while the number of homes available to rent is decreasing. Meanwhile, the Government has committed to ending long term homelessness by 2016. The current housing shortage is impeding progress and unless addressed urgently will result in the Government failing to achieve their 2016 target. We need to address these immediate needs as a matter of urgency, particularly for people who are vulnerable, those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness. We are extremely disappointed that homelessness is not prioritised.”
Private Rented Sector and Rent Supplement
The Strategy hopes to house 75, 000 households in the private rented sector in the life of the Strategy through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and 32,000 by 2017. The Simon Communities express concern about the capacity of the private rented sector to deliver on this.
Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities says that currently the private rented sector is imploding, with rents rising and the numbers of properties available reducing.
“The Strategy acknowledges the key role the private sector has to play in housing people and meeting housing needs of vulnerable groups especially people who are homeless. Rents are rising at a very rapid pace in the private rented sector 11% nationally from November 2013 to November 2014 and the numbers of properties reduced in the same period by 34%. We were disappointed that rent supplement was not addressed in the recent Budget particularly in light of the absence of rent control to ensure greater rent certainly to tenants. The new 20% deposit rule set by the Central Bank will result in people being slower to leave private rented housing. In addition, only today the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) reported to Government that in the future less people will be in a position to buy their own homes which will place greater demands on the private rented and social housing sectors. We are aware there are current issues with the RAS scheme with landlords exiting the scheme. Where will these additional rental properties come from?”
“Rent supplement levels are also huge problem, both pushing people into homelessness and preventing people from leaving. It is almost impossible to find housing that falls within the rent supplement limits and that this is a significant barrier for those at the lower end of the housing market. The Housing Assistance Payment will be set at the same levels as Rent Supplement and unless this is addressed urgently people in receipt of the new payment will also be locked out of the private rented market. We need greater reform and regulation of the private rented sector to ensure greater security of tenure and rent certainty so people can begin to see the private rented sector as their home and not just transition between social housing or owner occupancy.”
Actions to welcome in the Strategy
Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities welcomes that the Strategy looks at a diverse range of methods to increase housing supply.
“In the face of growing demand it is essential we are reactive and innovative. This is what the Simon Communities have been doing to increase the housing options available to people who are homeless all around the country. The Strategy will focus on a number of mechanisms to increase supply including direct build, refurbishment (voids), acquisitions and leasing.”
Pilot Cost Rental Model
We welcome today’s announcement of a Pilot Cost Rental Model. This is where the housing provider raises finance to provide accommodation and charge rents that are sufficient to cover both capital costs and ongoing maintenance and management costs only. The alternative to this is a profit rental model where the landlord can charges the maximum rent possible.”
NAMA Special Purpose Vehicle
We welcome the expansion of a NAMA special purpose vehicle however this needs to come on stream immediately as we are concerned at the slow pace delivery to date of NAMA properties. In addition, we await progress on NAMA’s social dividend.
The fact that the idea of a housing passport will be explored to allow greater residential mobility is positive and we look forward to its implementation.
Structures and Implementation
We welcome plans to establish an Oversight Group and Taskforce to drive the strategy through an action plan however we are disappointed this Taskforce is Dublin only. We appreciate the specific focus on Dublin given the acute nature of the housing problem in Dublin but we are disappointed this has not been expanded to the rest of the country where homelessness and the housing problem is also a huge issue. Where we have fallen down in the past is poor implementation -we have had good strategies but poor implementation. It is critical the Action Plan when developed has clear targets and identifies roles and responsibilities, are resources attached to specific actions and regular reporting.
For media queries and interview requests
Roisin McCarthy, Simon Communities of Ireland
Tel: 01 47 27 204/ 085 806 5141
About Simon Community:
The Simon Communities in Ireland are a network of eight regionally based independent Simon Communities based in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the Midlands, the Mid West, the North West and the South East that share common values and ethos in tackling all forms of homelessness throughout Ireland, supported by a National Office. The Simon Communities have been providing services in Ireland for over 40 years.
Whatever the issue, for as long as we are needed, Simon’s door is always open.
For more information please log on to www.simon.ie.
Services range from
· Housing provision, tenancy sustainment & settlement services, housing advice & information services helping people to make the move out of homelessness & working with households at risk;
· Specialist health & treatment services addressing some of the issues which may have contributed to homeless occurring or may be a consequence;
· Emergency accommodation & support providing people with a place of welcome, warmth & safety;
· Soup runs & rough sleeper teams who are often the first point of contact for people sleeping rough.
* Department of Environment, Community and Local Government report the number of adults in emergency accommodation in the week of the 20th -26th October 2014, were 2,580 around the country. 1,648 people were in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region and 932 people in emergency accommodation in the rest of the country. 479 of those in emergency accommodation had dependents and there were 798 children in emergency accommodation during this week.