Extending the eviction ban is essential until adequate supports are put in place to help hundreds of people who face homelessness from tonight, Focus Ireland founder Sr Stanislaus Kennedy has said.
The housing campaigner was speaking at the launch of 16 new Focus Ireland homes constructed in what were largely derelict buildings on Grand Parade in Cork City.
“Extending the eviction ban — while noting that the ban is not a long-term solution to the crisis — would offer more breathing space for politicians to produce a workable plan," Sr Kennedy said.
“We need a clear plan to tackle the underlying problems — that means the eviction ban is essential and should be extended over the timescale required to deliver a clear Government plan.
“It causes me great sadness to say that this is the worst I have ever seen homelessness in Ireland since we first set up Focus Ireland in 1985 almost 40 years ago."
The Government’s temporary eviction ban officially ends on April 1, and after the Government has came under pressure in the Dáil over its decision to end it amid a severe shortage of affordable housing.
Since last Wednesday it has faced three separate votes over its decision to end the moratorium on no-fault evictions, which it won in all three cases. Warnings have been issued that housing charities and homeless services are to come under pressure in the coming weeks as the eviction ban ends.
Sr Kennedy said being homeless causes people terrible trauma and it damages children the most.
“It is shameful that over 3,500 children are currently homeless in Ireland and the decision to end the ban will bring the trauma caused by homelessness to many more families and individuals. This could and should have been prevented.
“The deepening crisis is awful to see, and it makes me angry. You must get angry as it gives you the energy to do something. There is a saying that anger has two daughters, and they are courage and hope. When you become angry, it gives you courage to act and this brings hope.”
The launch of Focus Ireland’s new housing project in Cork City has brought hope to some. But many more remain in insecure housing.
There are 11,742 people in emergency homeless accommodation as of last month, according to the Government's official tally.
Figures compiled by the Department of Housing show that there were 8,369 adults and 3,373 children who were homeless in February.
Speaking at the launch, Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan said: “We know that in every town and city nationwide there are empty, vacant, and derelict buildings which could be used to help resolve our housing and homelessness crisis. At a time of such great unmet housing need, where the demand for social and affordable housing is through the roof, at a time when local authority waiting lists, including here in Cork, have thousands of families waiting for secure, decent housing, we must tackle the blight that is vacancy and dereliction.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin said Ireland needs to build more homes and for them to be built faster. He defended Government’s decision to lift the eviction ban, saying that retaining it would cause more damage long term.
But he added that Government must intervene to protect people, which he said it is doing through schemes like the tenant in situ plan.
“Housing, and increasing the supply of homes is the number one priority for this Government, and we are putting every effort into addressing the challenges we face to produce homes of every type,” Mr Martin said.
“Partnership and cooperation with approved housing bodies (AHBs), such as Focus Housing Association, is vital in the time ahead as we ramp up delivery and work to meet out Housing For All targets.”
Lord Mayor of Cork City Cllr Deirdre Ford said that the "much-needed" Focus Ireland homes will help to alleviate pressure and provide secure, permanent housing for people on Cork City council waiting lists.
“These are exactly the type of projects we need to be advancing and ramping up over the coming months and years to meet our housing supply targets and collaboration with approved housing bodies (AHBs), such as Focus Housing Association, will be central to meeting those ambitions.”
Sr Kennedy said: “We all need somewhere safe to live where we can build our lives. These homes here at Grand Parade mean Focus Housing Association now provide homes for nearly 1,400 households across Ireland.
“While it is fantastic to see the tenants get their keys and move in, we must also recognise the wider current crisis. It causes me great sadness to say that this is the worst I have ever seen homelessness in Ireland since we first set up Focus Ireland in 1985 almost 40 years ago.
“We must be hopeful that we find the courage to end this crisis for so many families and children, but we must also retain our anger at the situation and never accept that homelessness cannot be prevented and ended. Much more needs to be done. We must not rest until it is.”
The new homes built by Focus Ireland are on a site on Grand Parade that was previously a vacant commercial premises at ground floor-level and derelict above. It has now been transformed and renovated to deliver 16 homes to people from Cork City Council’s housing waiting list.
The B1-rated apartments are delivered by Focus Housing Association, with the support of Cork City Council, the Housing Finance Agency, the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, and with the generous donations contributed by the Tomar Trust, via Community Foundation Ireland.
The ground-floor of the premises will now serve as Focus Ireland’s central office in Cork to help the leading housing and homelessness charity deliver its work supporting people in the county.