500% increase in housing waiting lists in just 3 years

Ireland’s leading housing charity has expressed disappointment at figures released today indicating that almost 100,000 households are on Local Authority housing waiting lists throughout the country. Respond Housing Association claims the dramatic increase in housing need is a result of ad hoc housing policies adopted by previous governments over the past number of decades. According to the housing charity, the number of households on waiting lists increased at an alarming rate since 1991, despite a booming economy and property market during the Celtic Tiger years.

Respond spokesperson Aoife Walsh says it is now critical that a coherent, national housing is put in place that will tackle the housing crisis in Ireland.
“In 1991 just over 20,000 households were on Local Authority housing waiting lists and this figure now stands at almost 100,000 households. Despite many years of prosperity in the nineties and noughties, the lack of a consistent housing policy led to an over inflated property and an under developed social housing sector. Successive governments adopted ad hoc policies with no clear strategy or vision for the provision of social and affordable housing in Ireland. The supply of social housing never reached expected levels due to the amendment of Part V of the Planning & Development Act in 2002. When construction peaked at 93,000 units in 2006, just over 6,300 were provided for social housing purposes, far short of the 19,000 units that should have been delivered through Part V alone” said Walsh.

Walsh went to add that “while acknowleding the obvious commitment of Minister Penrose to this crisis, Respond is now calling on the Government to draft a coherent housing policy with stakeholder involvement from all the relevant parties. It is vital that with a rapdily growing need for social housing, we need to look closely at how we are going to meet it in the future.”

The results of the Housing Needs Assessment released today also highlights the very low income of those on waiting lists with almost 80% of households earning less than €15,000 per annum. According to the charity, further cuts in social welfare, rent supplement and child benefit will drastically impact upon this already vulnerable group.

“As was highlighted today, the number of households in need of rental assistance from the State, either through social housing or through rent supplement, is the highest ever. We agree with the Minster that there is no single solution and we hope the release of today’s figures will continue to focus attention on the housing crisis in this country” concluded Walsh.

National organisations present key principles to overcome personal debt and mortgage arrears crisis

A grouping of national organisations which advocate for people struggling with debt problems, including families at risk of losing their homes, warned today that the Government’s response on this issue to date is inadequate. Launching a joint statement on key principles to overcome the personal debt and mortgage arrears crisis, the bodies said that measures proposed in the recent Keane Report could not tackle the growing problem of personal debt effectively as they did not encompass the full scale of personal debt.

The organisations joined with policy researchers to highlight growing concern at the mounting issue of debt and mortgage arrears crisis in society, stressing that there are certain basic principles that must underpin policy responses to the current debt crisis in order to protect households most at risk.
While there is a general consensus around the need for a comprehensive response to the debt crisis, the group members emphasise that this response must be just, fair and multi-dimensional. It must address not just mortgage arrears but the totality of personal debt.

“There must be an independent debt resolution agency which will oversee first the introduction and then the ongoing implementation of a new legal regime,” said FLAC Senior Policy Researcher Paul Joyce, on behalf of the group.
“Ultimately, the aim of any measures to tackle the debt crisis must be to keep people in their homes where appropriate and to ensure access to social housing where needed.”

Group members are meeting the Dáil Finance Committee later today to articulate their ‘Nine Principles to Overcome Personal Debt’, the fruit of months of joint discussions which was launched at a press conference in Dublin. The group says these principles must be used as a basis to address the crisis and implement reforms. As the joint statement concludes:

The social and economic costs of the minimal policy intervention we are currently experiencing will, in all likelihood over time, outweigh the costs of responding comprehensively now. We therefore urgently call for a national strategy to be put in place to resolve over-indebtedness and to foster a responsible credit market that can prevent a similar crisis from occurring for future generations.

Editors’ notes:
1. The organisations and individuals who have agreed the joint statement/9 key principles on debt are as follows: FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), Threshold, Focus Ireland, New Beginning, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Northside Community Law Centre, Ballymun Community Law Centre, Respond Housing Association, Dr Stuart Stamp (NUI Maynooth), Ciara Murray (Public Information Consultant), Simon Brooke (Housing and Social Policy Consultant), Dr Michelle Norris (University College Dublin), Dr Padraic Kenna (NUI Galway).

2. The above-mentioned group are not an ongoing coalition. Members have been meeting for a number of months to discuss the personal debt crisis. A number of common concerns emerged from these discussions which led to the compilation of the nine principles.

3. Members of the group will be campaigning separately on the issue of resolving the personal debt and mortgage arrears crisis, but using the nine principles as a basis for this work.

4. Group members will be available for comment following the press conference to be held at 11am on Weds 19 October, Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2. All press enquiries prior to that time should be directed to Paul Joyce/Yvonne Woods on behalf of the group.

5. The Keane Report is the latest in a series of reports on the mortgage arrears crisis and was compiled by the Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group and is available at: http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=7006

6. The Central Bank released its latest figures on mortgage arrears on 29 August 2011. These are available online at: http://www.centralbank.ie/press-area/press-releases/Pages/LatestMortgageArrearsDatashow72ofMortgageAccountsinArrears.aspx

7. The joint statement includes an analysis of the overall debt situation, its causes and consequences, and names specific measures to ensure a just, fair and equitable outcome for over-indebted people, such as access to independent advice, retention of homes and maintaining a minimum household income. The full text is available at http://www.flac.ie/publications/policy.html

The nine principles outlined by the group are:
1. Over-indebtedness – It is inability to pay rather than a lack of willingness to do so that is at the heart of the personal debt crisis. Over-indebtedness is a deep social and economic problem that requires a multi-dimensional strategic response from government.

2. The need for data – Comprehensive information is urgently needed to quantify the extent of the debt problem. Policy initiatives undertaken must be constantly evaluated in light of such data.

3. Multiple debt – Proposed solutions must take all debt liabilities into account to be effective and workable.

4. Personal insolvency legislation -There is an immediate need for the introduction of personal insolvency legislation. A Debt Resolution Agency should be established to oversee the legislative scheme to ensure transparency and consistency.

5. Debt write-off – Insolvent debtors should pay to the best of their ability for a limited time period and remaining debt should then be written off.

6. Access to representation – Debtors must be entitled to have an advocate represent their interests in negotiations to agree or processes to contest debt repayments.

7. Minimum income – Debtors must be entitled to a minimum income to meet their basic needs while repaying debts.

8. Unsustainable mortgages – The fact that some mortgages are unsustainable must be recognised and where repossession results, appropriate social housing and social welfare rights must be provided to such households.

9. Retention of dwelling – State supports should aim to keep people in their homes where possible, whether in an ongoing mortgage or as a tenant where appropriate.

Crisis in homeless services in Dublin could have been avoided

Following reports that Dublin City Council workers are handing out sleeping bags to homeless people at night, one of Ireland’s leading housing charities has revealed that they were forced to close a transitional housing unit for homeless men in Dublin in recent months. Respond Housing Association confirmed that following the withdrawal of funding from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (formerly the Homeless Agency), the charity was no longer able to provide transitional housing for homeless men in Drumcondra, Dublin. The withdrawal of funding to Respond followed the decision of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive to reconfigure the provision of homeless support services in Dublin.

According to Respond spokesperson Aoife Walsh, recent reports highlighting the crisis in emergency services in Dublin are particularly upsetting given the closure of the charity’s transitional housing unit in Drumcondra, Dublin.
“It was with regret that Respond finally closed the transitional housing unit in Conrath House, Drumcondra in June of this year. The centre provided good quality accommodation for men who were homeless since 2004 in an environment that was safe, clean and supportive. At the time we felt the decision taken by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive to withdraw funding was short sighted. We were concerned that there was not an adequate level of appropriate services in place to meet demand and the reports in this week’s media simply confirm these fears. The changes being made to emergency services in Dublin means the assistance currently being offered to homeless people has become haphazard and chaotic. Ultimately it is the vulnerable people sleeping on our streets who are suffereing as a result” said Walsh.

When open, Conrath House employed 16 full and part time staff and accommodated up to 43 men. The centre provided a stepping stone from emergency accommodation to independent living for men following a difficult period in their lives.

“It is disappointing that Respond was forced to close Conrath House for good when it is now clear there was not adequate alternative services in place. As we approach the winter, it is worrying that Dublin City Council appear to be offering sleeping bags to homeless people as a short term solution to homelessness” added Walsh. “The target to end homelessness by 2010 was never achieved and unfortunately we seem further away from achieving it now than we ever did before” she concluded.