Simon Coveney: Housing is our number one priority

With rents at their highest levels nationally since 2008 and claims from Fr Peter McVerry that new Housing Minister Simon Coveney is facing “a homeless and housing crisis which is out of control”, how does the country address a situation which has been worsening for most of the last decade?

Mr Coveney will today hold meetings with charities battling homelessness to get their views — he had similar meetings yesterday.

Tomorrow, Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Enda Kenny will meet with chiefs executive of local authorities to establish how they can contribute to what he sees as a need to build between 30,000 and 35,000 units over the next 10 years, to make up for the lack of house construction over the last decade.

Many critics have said that, until now, there has been a lack of joined-up thinking in the State’s approach to addressing the housing crisis.

As Ronan Lyons, author of the Daft.ie report which found rent has increased by up to 16% in parts of the country in the last six months, pointed out: “It is widely acknowledged that, along with healthcare and possibly water charges, housing is the most pressing issue facing the new government. However, housing policy currently is dispersed across a number of departments and government organisations, including the Property Services Regulatory Authority, the Central Bank, the Housing Agency, the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Environment, and local authorities, as well as others.”

Simon Coveney: Housing is our number one priority

Mr Lyons said this situation had meant no one government minister had turned up at cabinet meetings with housing consistently top of their agenda, as happens routinely with health and education.

However, Simon Coveney told the Irish Examiner last night that housing is “probably the number one priority for this Government”.

The general consensus appears to be that all the concerned parties need to get into one room and work out why construction costs are so high, what can be done to address them, and what can be done to best accommodate the huge numbers who require social housing.

There also needs to be a greater appreciation of where housing is actually required — are apartments and townhouses in urban locations needed more than suburban housing estates?

Mr Coveney said a priority is to establish what density is required and where units should be built. “There is a requirement for more direct state intervention such as social housing funding through local authorities.”

Mr Coveney said a whole series of options are being examined, including an increase in the availability of land, how quickly social housing units can be built on sites that are available now, and examining lands where planning permissions have been granted but on which, for whatever reason, units have not been built.

Simon Coveney: Housing is our number one priority

“We need to look at how we ensure that we do not continue putting families in hotel rooms. That is not conducive to the way families should be living. People in emergency accommodation need to know there is an urgency to deal with the issue — they do not want to hear solutions for 2019.”

The Oireachtas committee on housing and homelessness was told yesterday that more than 5,500 people are homeless — a third of them children — and tens of thousands of people are on waiting lists for a council house. It heard rents have passed peak boom levels, with a home in Dublin costing an average of €1,464 a month.

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