State Investment needed to tackle Housing Crisis.

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Housing charity Threshold recently called on the Irish government to act in the face of what it believes is a rental crisis in Ireland.  According to the charity rents “are rising very significantly, particularly at the bottom end of the market”.

A forthcoming study carried out by the group shows that more than 50 per cent of people receiving rent supplement from the State are topping up their rent because they cannot access housing without paying more than the State contribution.

The charity called for Government action to prevent people from being displaced from their homes.  The reality is that there already is a significant amount of displacement and a serious increase in those presenting as homeless.  According to Focus Ireland 16 families are  are losing their home every month in Dublin while they have had a 20% increase  in inquiries nationwide.   

This increase is due primarily to the recession but also as a result of an unofficial policy of discrimination being pursued in the private rental market.  Go on to rental sites like Daft and My Home and you will find that most rental accommodation stipulates that they will not accept social welfare recipients.

This policy combined with the department of Social Protection’s continuing disingenuousness about the relationship of rent allowance to actual rents is serving to deepen the crisis for those on welfare, blocking off any route out of poverty for thousands of people.

Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan said she believed the rental market in Ireland should be regulated along the lines of other European countries.  The Minister’s suggestion that the price of rented accommodation should be capped in line with the cost of living, would be of some benefit in the short term but it is not a long term solution to Ireland’s housing needs.

Perhaps it is time to learn the lessons of the past and not just the recent past when it comes to housing.  The Irish state have never embraced a full role in the question of housing.  Instead Irish Governments continuously allowed the private sector free reign in the rental housing market, while selling off existing social housing schemes to the occupiers rather than introduce long term rental schemes. Other European countries such as the UK and Holland invested heavily in social housing for decades resulting, in a high level of good standard socialised housing stock.

What O’Sullivan is arguing is a continuation of the same practice of private renting but with new regulations in place.  The problem is that rules and regulations are being broken all of the time, in fact the state itself is involved in a pretence when it comes to rent allowance.  Turning a blind eye to the real costs of rent and allowing the private market to discriminate against welfare recipients is  adding to the housing crisis. This is creating an under class who are being trapped in a cycle of poverty and are at great risk of becoming homeless.

The fact that we have quickly moved from a situation of an abundance of new housing to an accommodation crisis in a few short years is a clear signifier that the private market and owner occupier model is not an adequate solution to housing in Ireland.  With thousands of ghost estates still dotting the landscape and over four hundred thousand plus out of work, it is clear that private developers have been allowed to manipulate the housing market for their own purposes.

The state ultimately has to take responsibility for housing and invest seriously in a social housing programme which will restore the housing stock to a workable level, will insure that building standards are adhered to, put people to work in the construction sector and free up some income for those currently spending most of their money on accommodation in the private market.

A system of long term leases at affordable rents will reduce the amount the state needs to pay out in rent allowances, money which ultimately ends up in the private landlord’s pocket.  As a society we will be better able to maintain stable communities where families are given a long term option rather than having to look for housing every 12 months.  A high level of social housing stock, maintained responsibly, will prevent a future crisis of accommodation and homelessness.