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Urgent action required on social housing

By Ann Marie Foley - 28 January, 2016

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Good progress has been made in opening ‘voids’ for social housing but less on rental schemes according to the Peter McVerry Trust.

Commenting on the annual review of the Government’s Social Housing Strategy, Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust said: “The capital programme delivered beyond expectations. This figure represents the level of work undertaken to return local authority voids back into social housing units. These units accounted for a significant proportion of the output in 2015.”

However, he added that in 2016 as void rates have dropped to less than 1% in Dublin, there needs to be a “dramatic increase” in new built housing programmes and property acquisitions.

The Department of the Environment reported that over 13,000 new social housing units/sets of keys were delivered in 2015.

In 2015, the Peter McVerry Trust itself completed 19 acquisitions and returned 26 voids back into social housing and hopes that a number of CAS (Capital Assistance Scheme) funded construction projects will help provide special needs social housing in 2016.

The HAP/RAS schemes (where local authorities pay landlords for rented accommodation) did not deliver according to Pat Doyle and that was of “particular concern”.

“The social housing strategy provides for 75,000 households to be housed in the private rental market, yet in year 1 the strategy only achieved 72% of its intended 10,400 unit target,” he said.

He added that this illustrates the difficulty that housing and homeless agencies are having in finding suitable accommodation within the limits of these schemes. It may also be an early indication of difficulties in securing housing for 75,000 households in the private rental market.

Overall Pat Doyle welcomed the review as an important monitoring step and the announcements by Ministers Kelly and Coffey on the 2016 social housing targets as well as details of further CAS funding to support the work of AHBs (Approved Housing Bodies in Ireland).

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The Simon Communities of Ireland also welcomed the announcements by the Ministers in particular the allocation of funding for 1,000 new social housing units as part of the Social Housing Strategy.

Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson, Simon Communities, said that any measures which help to increase affordable housing supply are to be welcomed but rapid implementation with clear timescales is essential.

“Building and delivery of social housing directly by local authorities is critical to addressing the current housing crisis. We particularly welcome the Minister’s commitment to 400 new local authority staff to support the construction of 10,000 homes per year as part of the medium to long term plan.”

“One of the things we have been concerned about is the capacity of Local Authorities to deliver on social housing commitments. It’s only with the capacity, correct skill set and resources that this strategy can be delivered.”

Niamh Randall cautioned that without access to appropriate, affordable housing more people will become trapped in emergency accommodation.

Such accommodation must only be: “a temporary measure before people can be moved to homes of their own. Access to affordable housing with support is the most cost-effective and proven solution to the housing and homeless crisis,” she said.

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A Simon study, released earlier this week, found that 95% of properties available to rent around Ireland are priced beyond the reach of people on state rent supports for housing.

The snapshot study by Simon Communities in Ireland found that there was just one property available to rent for a single person within rent supplement/HAP limits over the three day study period; this was in Leitrim.

Simon urged the government to act now, before leaving office, to tackle the urgent immediate housing and homeless crisis.

Conducted over three consecutive days in November, ‘Locked Out of the Market III: The Gap Between Rent Supplement/HAP Limits and Market Rents’ highlights just how much the private rented market has shrunk and the increasing gap between rising rents and rent supplement/ housing assistance payments (HAP) limits.

Similar Simon Communities’ studies in May and August 2015 show that rents have increase by 32.3% since April 2012 while rent limits (for benefits)  have remained unchanged since June 2013.

Locked Out of the Market III found that there were 746 properties to rent over the snapshot period in eleven locations.

This is a 13% fall to the number of properties available to rent compared to the August study (859) and a 35% drop in the May study (1,150).

The number of properties available to rent at or below rent supplement/HAP limits fell by 47% when compared to August from 64 to 34 properties.

This was a 75% drop from the May study when 138 properties were available to rent at or below rent supplement/HAP limits.

Simon Communities, recommended:

– immediate increase on RS/HAP (rented accommodation) payment limits.
– enhanced prevention and early intervention responses to ensure people remain in their homes where possible.
– a plan for the Private Rented Sector to ensure greater stability and security of tenure.
– better use of existing empty properties, houses and local authority homes.
– more social housing built by Local Authorities and NAMA should also pay a role in building social housing.

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