The first line of our motion says it all: “There exists a current housing and homelessness emergency in the country that must be addressed as a matter of urgency”. Part of me feels we could have just left it at that, because then we might have come to a general consensus that there is an emergency and a crisis that will worsen unless it is dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Tá seanfhocal againn, “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.” Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil daoine nach bhfuil a dtinteáin féin acu agus go bhfuil an uimhir sin ag dul in airde.
We know the facts which have been highlighted by many of us here, in the media and by those directly involved in housing provision. In particular, I will consider three issues;
1. The first of which is local authority housing in Dublin. There is just not enough available to meet demand and we know that little or no housing is being built. There is an excessive and unacceptable number of voids in potentially good accommodation in flat complexes and estates; some of these properties are left for far too long, even years, without occupants. I know that €15 million has been released to deal with this issue, but it is only a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed, particularly given what I see in Dublin Central. We know that sufficient funding is not available to provide the required social housing. We can see how we have ended up, despite all the tax incentives and breaks in the so-called good years. The ghost estates are inaccessible, with no transport, services or schools.
2. In the case of private accommodation, I am very critical of the landlords I have seen in Dublin Central. I accept that there are responsible landlords, but I have seen too many rogue landlords with tenants at their mercy. They have no concern whatever for the condition of the property they rent and many are still not registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. As they do not follow up on subletting, there is serious overcrowding, as well as health and safety issues. These landlords are being let off the hook on social and environmental issues and although some tenants demonstrate serious anti-social behaviour or do dreadful damage to communities, they are allowed to terrorise elderly citizens. Such individuals do the absolute minimum in disposing of rubbish, meaning that there is a massive problem in the north inner city with illegal dumping. The Dublin City Council intensified inspection scheme has thrown up appalling results, but it is not moving fast enough to get landlords to tackle the issues involved.
3. We all know about the rents issue and some rates are out of proportion to what is being paid for. Stopping rent supplement before tackling rents was incomprehensible. There should have been legislation to bring down rents before looking at rent allowance in a proportionate way. As a result of demand, rents are increasing in the private rental sector; landlords have the pick of tenants and those on rent allowance are ending up homeless. There is also the increase in the number of landlords who will not accept tenants on rent allowance. If people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of gender or ethnicity, why are they being discriminated against on the basis that there are in receipt of rent allowance? I do not begrudge people the €500 million being rolled out for broadband provision in a large number of towns and villages in rural Ireland, but some people in this country do not have a roof over their heads and they certainly do not have broadband when they do not have a home.
I am struck by three elements of the Government’s amendment. The Government has indicated that it recognises the high priority it has assigned to housing and homelessness issues, particularly in the housing policy statements from 2011 and 2013. If the issue was a priority, we would not be having this debate or what Fr. Peter McVerry has termed a “tsunami” coming down the road.
The housing issue is tied to employment, health and community well-being. There was a perception that this would never happen again, but it has.