By Evelyn Ring
The Government has “no plans” to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution, Minister of State for Housing, Damien English has said.
The Simon Communities in Ireland wants housing to be recognised as a fundamental right in the Constitution.
“Homelessness is a clear violation of this right,” said Niamh Randall, its national spokesperson, who has warned that 2018 will be a record year for homelessness.
Over the first six months of this year, 1,218 people used the charity's emergency accommodation services, compared to 968 for all of 2017.
“Up to June 2018 we worked with 3,140 families with 3,255 children, compared to 2,006 families with 3,799 children for the whole of 2017,” said Ms Randall.
“Today we are reporting the number of people we worked with last year increased to 13,304 people. This is an increase of two-thirds in just two years.”
Mr English said making housing a constitutional right would not make much of a difference to the current situation because his department was doing all it could to provide new homes.
He said the Government took its responsibility very seriously. Its work was driven by the need to look after people as soon as possible and provide new houses.
Mr English, who launched the charity's 2017 annual report, said there would be less reliance on the private rental sector as more social housing became available.
When the five-year housing strategy was launched two years ago, the State had to rely on the private sector because it could not build the houses quickly enough.
“Our policies are not based on relying on the private sector forever. Absolutely not,” he said.
Ms Randall said her organisation would like to see the State building on State land as quickly as possible.
It also wanted ways to be found of getting the 200,000 empty homes recorded by the census back into use again as quickly as possible.
“While there is a repair and lease scheme we would argue that it is not ambitious enough,” she said.
Ms Randall said it was good to hear Mr English acknowledge that the private rental sector would not deliver all that was needed.
However, at the heart of Rebuilding Ireland – the plan to tackle the country's housing shortage - was a reliance on the private rental sector to deliver social housing through the Housing Assistance Payment scheme (HAP).
“I would still have those concerns in relation to the capacity of the private rental sector to deliver all of those homes that are required,” she said.
She added the Government could and must do better in 2019.
“We must never accept homelessness as normal. We must never accept people living with such fear and uncertainty as normal."
Next year will mark the 50th year since Simon Communities, which has over 2,500 volunteers, first began providing services in Ireland.
Most of its income (82.5%) last year came from the public and corporate donations, with the remainder coming from State grants.