Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Fine Gael/Labour response to housing crisis worse than pathetic

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive recently announced its latest figures for homelessness in the capital. In February 2015 some 371 families with 803 children were in emergency accommodation provided by the Homeless Executive because the local authorities cannot provide houses or apartments. That is a 40% increase from June 2014. And as the crisis is getting worse we can safely say that, if it has not already been reached, we will soon reach the figure of 1,000 children in bed and breakfast rooms and hotel rooms in Dublin. These children have to go to school from rooms where families are thrown with no space, no way to cook for themselves and no privacy. Imagine trying to prepare children for school, get homework done and the many other tasks most people take for granted. The tragic death of a homeless man on the street close to the Dáil created a flurry of media interest and embarrassed the Fine Gael/Labour Government into putting in place a few half measures. The focus was on rough sleeping which, dire as it is, represents only the visible tip of the housing crisis iceberg. Below the surface and, most of the time ignored by the media, are the homeless in emergency accommodation, those waiting for such accommodation, those not on the official homeless list but in acute housing need and living with relatives or friends, those people who are years on Council waiting lists, those struggling with increasing rents and people on the brink of losing their homes because of mortgage distress. The most immediate factor pushing people into homelessness is the rise in rents in Dublin. In the Sunday Business Post on 29 March, David Ehrlich, the largest landlord in the State, chief executive of the Ires Reit property company, predicted that rents in the capital will rise by 20% before the end of 2016. Estate agents quoted in the same article speak of the rents they are "achieving". But they also speak of the shortage of housing, especially apartments, that is pushing up rents. In the face of this crisis the response of the Fine Gael/Labour Government is worse than pathetic. It is grossly negligent. They are simply taking no action to address spiralling rents. The Government has announced that it will not lift the cap on Rent Supplement payments, alleging that this would lead to further rent rises. But at the same time they are doing nothing to control rents. So as far as Fine Gael and Labour are concerned the number of families filling b&bs and hotel room can continue to increase. As at the time of the propoerty bubble, it is the property sector - developers, landlords, speculators - who are calling the shots. Like its predecessor, this Government has abdicated its responsibility to provide Council homes for rent and affordable homes to buy. 'Leave it to the market' is still the mantra, despite the abject failure of this policy. The estate agents quoted in the Sunday Business Post complain about the higher standards for apartment construction introduced by Dublin City Council, claiming that this is inhibiting construction. Again, this is a throwback to the property bubble when sub-standard apartments proliferated. We know the solutions to all this. The State must accept its responsibility, develop Council housing and take measures to ensure that affordable housing for rent and purchase is provided. The question is how do we push to the Government to do the right thing? We need to build a movement, firstly to assist people in the private rented sector who are being rack-rented into homelessness. People should be supported in staying in their homes. Rent control must be demanded. From there we need to expand it into an overall campaign for Housing as a Right.

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