Growing old in the community should be the goal of housing

Opinion piece published in the Irish Independent 26/04/2016

‘None of us hopes to end our days in a nursing home. Circumstances may dictate that it is the best choice but it is nobody’s first choice.

We are living longer, but we have yet to face up to the new reality that this brings.

We rightly notice and bemoan levels of child poverty that make us truly ashamed of how we treat the most vulnerable in our society. But we have failed, in many ways, to include our older selves in this equation, and to face up to the responsibility we have to our older relatives and neighbours, both as a State and as a society.

The consultative paper from the Law Reform Commission on succession rights has brought this issue into sharp focus. It asks the question: do we need to take account of changing family relationships?

The answer is a clear ‘yes’, but we need to do this honestly, and be prepared for deeper soul searching than we normally do in public policy debates.

Instead of focusing our ire on central government and demanding a solution from the ‘powers that be’, we must examine our individual and collective responsibility to each other.

The solution lies with both ‘them’ and ‘us’. Continue reading

Welcome commitment to social housing in new Programme for Government

Respond  today welcomed the Government’s commitment to building 100,000 new houses by 2020 but questioned exactly how many social homes are planned to be built over the period. Lack of housing supply is the greatest single cause of our current homelessness crisis and the number 1 way to get people off the housing list and out of emergency accommodation is to provide them with affordable and secure tenure in a social or public house.

Ned Brennan, CEO of Respond said:

“I warmly welcome the appointment of Simon Coveney TD as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Having a Minister charged with reaching the ambitious targets for building, with the requisite powers across planning and local authorities should be a significant enabling element for the sector. It is imperative though that the new Minister does have the right and real powers across Government as he will be answerable to the Dáil and the people as to the success or failure of the Action Plan on Housing.

The Programme for Government also recognises the significant role housing associations have in dealing with our homelessness crisis. Voluntary housing associations built over 80% of the social homes in Ireland in 2015. We have the history, the expertise and the capacity to increase our output to deal with the pent-up demand but needed certain barriers to building to be address. The Programme for Government goes some way towards addressing some of these concerns. We welcome in particular certain elements that we in the sector have long advocated. These include:

  • Increasing the threshold for single-stage approval of developments from €2m to €5m should really have a positive impact on social housing delivery. For example, this would mean that development of up to 25 houses would qualify for this fast track approach. Previously, housing associations and local authorities could only build 8 units or less under this process.
  • Allowing housing associations to buy properties from investors where a sale could leave families homeless.
  • A special purpose vehicle to provide long-term financing for housing associations
  • ‘Best practice’ and coordination of policy and financing for the sector

However, it must be noted that the wording of the document is in many cases to ‘examine’, to ‘review’, ‘to look to’ , ‘to engage’. The proposals are promising but action is not guaranteed; we would question if many of these elements will ever actually come to pass. The proposal from the Irish League of Credit Unions to lend €5 billion to housing associations has been on the table for over 7 months now with no satisfactory outcome.

We welcome the new Minister’s plans to consult with the sector for maximum positive impact on the ground and for transparent monthly reports of construction activity. It is possible to measure progress in delivery as we go. The proof of this plan will be the number of new homes built, the number on both the housing and the emergency housing lists nationwide and whether this time next year we still have families living in hotels”.