Respond welcomes the appointment of Jan O’ Sullivan, T.D. as the new Minister for Housing and Planning

Ireland’s leading housing charity today welcomes the appointment of Jan O’ Sullivan as the new Minister for Housing and Planning following the resignation of Willie Penrose, TD in November. Respond Housing Association is pleased that the Minister for Housing and Planning will remain a ‘Super Junior’ position following weeks of speculation to the contrary. The housing charity contends housing is a critical area of economic and social policy and the Minister with responsibility should retain a seat at the cabinet table.

According to Respond spokesperson Aoife Walsh, the charity looks forward to meeting with Minister O’ Sullivan in the New Year to assist with the many challenges that lie ahead.
“Respond Housing Association would like to wish Minister O’ Sullivan the very best during her term in office. With more than 2,800 unfinished housing estates throughout the country, 100,000 households on Local Authority Housing waiting lists, an increasing mortgage arrears crisis and a property market still in decline, the Minister faces a difficulty time ahead. Respond would call on the Minister to engage with stakeholders as soon as possible in order to devise a strategy to deal with the key issues.”

Respond supporting the toy appeal this Christmas

With many parents struggling to buy toys for their children this Christmas, Respond Housing Association is pleased to support the St Vincent de Paul, 2FM and SuperValu Toy Appeal. As well as donating toys, we are providing extra drop off points for toy donations in 24 of our childcare centres nationwide (see participating venues below).

More information is also available on our Facebook and Twitter pages

Participating Respond Childcare Centres:

  • Flinters Clever Kids, Flinteres Close, Athy, Co Kildare
  • Ard Mor Montessori, Ard Mor, Tallaght, Dublin 24
  • Chesterfield Close Childcare, Birr, Co Offaly
  • Tailte an Chlochair Childcare, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan
  • Hidden Treasures, Riverwell Close, Dundalk, Co Louth
  • Stepping Stones, Rowan Heights, Drogheda, Co Louth
  • Ard an Ghleanna, Childcare Tramore, Co Waterford
  • Comeragh Court Childcare, Clonmel, Co Tipperary
  • Tír na Siamsa, Daphne View, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
  • Glenview Childcare, Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary
  • Highfield Childcare, Killenaule, Co Tipperary
  • Killure Grove Childcare, Waterford
  • Little Angels, Marquis Drive, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
  • Millenium Court Childcare, Kilkenny
  • Seán Browne Crescent Childcare, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
  • Setanta Childcare, New Ross, Co Wexford
  • Chatterbox Playschool, Slaney View Drive, Tullow, Co Carlow
  • Westlands Childcare, Wexford
  • Hillview Childcare, Charleville, Co Cork
  • Clós Naomh Mucha Childcare, Clashmore, Co Waterford
  • Mount Vernon Childcare, Douglas,Cork
  • Oakfield Close Childcare, Mallow, Co Cork
  • Distillery View Childcare, Limerick
  • Stonecourt Childcare, Ennis, Co Tipperary

Housing charity calls for radical reform of rent supplement

Ireland’s leading housing charity is calling for radical changes to be made to rent supplement as the cost of the scheme has increased dramatically in the past number of years. Respond Housing Association contends that rent supplement is an inefficient use of state resources with private landlords benefitting most from the payment. In their pre-budget submission released today, the charity is calling for rent supplement recipients to be transferred to more secure, longer term accommodation after a period of 6 months.
According to Respond Housing Association spokesperson Aoife Walsh, the current rent supplement system is poorly designed and urgent changes are needed.

“When rent supplement was first introduced in 1999, it was only intended as a short-term income support for those who suffered a sudden drop in income. However, it is now an acknowldeged housing benefit and the cost of it has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2010, more than €500 million was spent on rent supplement for more than 97,000 households. There are changes that could be made in the short-term to make the scheme more efficient and more cost effective. These include Local Authorities negotiating directly with landlords and payment being made directly to landlords, as is the case with the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). Minimum rental limits set for each area should also be re-examined, as should the standard of accommodation being provided by private landlords.”

Respond welcomes the announcement by Minister Penrose in June of this year that responsibility for rent supplement will be transferred from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. According to the housing charity this is a logical step that should lead to savings. However, the housing charity has cautioned that rent supplement is not a substitute for the long term provision of social housing.

“In recent years more funding has been allocated to rent supplement than the provision of new social housing and this cannot be allowed to continue. Respond believes that social housing provides better savings for the State in the longer term, as well as better managed and more secure accomodation for tenants” said Walsh. “Respond is calling for a reduction in the time a household must be on rent supplement for eligibility for the Rental Accommodation Scheme from 18 months to 6 months. Ultimately, those with a housing need should be transferred to longer term, more secure accommodation as quickly as possible” concluded Walsh.

Respond is also calling for assistance for those in mortgage distress, including the introduction of personal insolvency legislation and a Debt Resolution Agency. The housing charity believes the response of Government to date to deal with the mortgage crisis has been inadequate. Lack of consultation with consumer advocates by the Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group was a missed opportunity for genuine engagement with those helping those in mortgage distress said the housing charity.

Please click here to read our 2012 Pre Budget Submission

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.

Housing charity increases the number of internships available

Ireland’s leading housing charity is pleased to announce it is increasing the number of internships it is creating in the Government’s new National Internship Scheme,’ JobBridge’. Respond Housing Association is advertising internships in a variety of different areas including human resources, education, mental health, environmental awareness and working with older people. The internships will last for a period of nine months and the housing charity hopes to create further opportunities in the future.

According to Respond spokesperson Aoife Walsh, the charity is delighted to be part of the National Internship Scheme as it ties in very closely with the ethos of the organisation.
“Respond has always believed in creating opportunties for our residents and the new National Internship Scheme is doing this on an even larger scale for jobseekers in the wider community. We hope that we will be able to provide jobseekers the opportunity to work in a variety of different areas that will not only benefit them but will also be of value to the organisation. We believe jobseekers will contribute fresh ideas to our work in the community and we are pleased to be part of this Government initiaitive. We are currently recruiting interns in five different areas including human resources, education, mental health, environmental awareness and working with older people. We will have completed the recruitment process by the end of August and look forward to welcoming new interns to the organisation in September.”

Respond is hoping this will be the first round of internship recruitment and that the organisation will be in a position to announce further internships later in the year. The housing charity believes the National Internship Scheme is an exciting new way of getting people back into the workforce where they can learn new skills, as well as gain valuable experience.

“We believe this is a great opportunity for both Respond and the successful interns as it will allow us access recent graduates or jobseekers with fresh ideas, as well allowing interns develop a foundation of experience” added Walsh. “Many of the interns will be based in our Head Office in Waterford which is positive for the city given recent business and factory closures. The National Internship Scheme will keep unemployed people close to the labour market and incease their employability in the future. Respond is happy to contribute to the national activation agenda by creating these quality internships and look forward to creating even more internships in the future” concluded Walsh.

The National Internship Scheme, which consists of 5,000 places, will give individuals on the Live Register the opportunity to undertake a quality internship in an organisation in the private, public or community and voluntary sectors for a six month or nine month period. Interns will receive an allowance of €50 per week in addition to their existing social welfare entitlement. This allowance will be payable for the duration of the internship. Further information on the internships is available on our website or by emailing recruit@respond.ie

Students outside UCD can now obtain UCD degree through distance learning

For the first time the School of Applied Social Science in University College Dublin (UCD) is offering a Bachelor of Social Science (BSS) degree with a distance learning option. Students outside of Dublin can now obtain a BSS degree in Housing and Community Studies from UCD without having to commute or relocate to the capital. This unique degree, which is delivered by UCD and Respond Houisng Association, is the only one of its kind in Ireland. The degree provides a greater understanding of Irish society in terms of the relationship between housing, community and social policy. With the new distance learning option, the part-time degree is now ideal for those with busy lifestyles who wish to save time and expense travelling to and from lectures.

According to Joanne Richards, BSS in Housing and Community Studies Programme Leader, the extension of the degree will make it easier for students outsideof Dublin to combine work, study and other commitments.
“Respond and UCD have been offering this degree for almost 10 years, with a large number of students from outside of Dublin participating. As this is a part-time programme for mature students taking place over four years, we believe the distance learning option will facilitate those outside of Dublin who may find it difficult to commute, work and study.”

Through the use of video conferencing, students will be able to attend lectures in designated distance learning centres in Cork, Galway and Waterford. Lectures will be delivered in Dublin on the UCD Campus in Belfield or the Respond campus in Drumcondra. Tutorials will then be held on a regular basis at various venues throughout the country. Both UCD and Respond believe that video conferencing and other online media will allow for full student participation and interaction amongst those on campus and those located at the designated distance learning centres.

“Both UCD and Respond offer comprehensive learner support, including one-on-one personal tutorials with our team of experienced tutors and lecturers” said Richards. “Students outside of Dublin can now achieve a UCD BSS degree thanks to new technologies. Online tutorials, podcasts, downloadable lectures and participation in discussion forums means the learning experience has been expanded and broadened to the benefit of all students. New media means students and lecturers can communicate easily with each other and constantly stay in touch. UCD and Respond are simply managing and responding to the needs of part-time students in these changing times” concluded Richards.

The Bachelor of Social Studies in Housing and Community Development is the only degree of its kind in Ireland. It is aimed at adult learners seeking a flexible part-time programme that enables a positive work life balance while providing the opportunity to return to third level education. Further information can be obtained by visiting our website or emailing bsscourse@respond.ie

Proper education is key to the future of housing in Ireland

Ireland’s largest housing charity believes education and training is key to the future of the Irish housing sector. In the aftermath of a Celtic Tiger that was largely fuelled by the property market, Respond Housing Association feels education is vital to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future. In partnership with University College Dublin, the housing charity is providing a Bachelor of Social Studies in Housing and Community Studies in September 2011 that will focus on the needs of people and communities and not just banks and developers.

According to Respond spokesperson Aoife Walsh housing is at the core of our communities, a need that has been neglected in the past.
“Housing is about far more than just physical buildings. The bricks are important but you must build communities upon them. A well-planned, well-built and well-managed housing development, whether private or public, will contribute significantly to a healthy and functioning community. Our planners, architects, developers and builders need to be more aware of this in order to build integrated and inclusive communities that people want to be part of.”

Respond maintains that housing is about much more than bricks and mortar, a belief that was lost during the Celtic Tiger. The housing charity claims many lost the sense of belonging and community during the past decade, with people focusing on housing as a commodity, rather than a home.

“In the Respond and UCD Bachelor of Social Studies in Housing and Community Studies, we emphasise the importance of sustainability. This refers to both the built environment and the community” added Ms Walsh. “Unfortunately, in the past decade the property market was never concerned with building sustainable, integrated communities. Instead it was about making money. This drive to profit from the property sector has contributed significantly to our current economic difficulties. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and through the BSS in Housing and Community Studies, we are educating people on how integrated, vibrant communities can be created in place of the ghettos of the past” concluded Ms Walsh.

Delivered in partnership with UCD, the BSS is a four-year, part-time degree programme for mature students. The principal aim of the course is to provide students with an understanding of the issues of housing, social policy, community development and management. For the first time the degree will include a distance learning option. Through the use of video conferencing, students will be able to attend lectures in designated learning centres in Cork and Galway. Anyone interested in the course can contact Respond on 051 840200 or visit our website.