It’s too early to say whether recent Government attempts to fix the housing crisis will work. In the meantime, many people are still suffering, writes Juno McEnroe.

SKY-HIGH rents, unaffordable house prices, unprecedented numbers of homeless families and an all-time low record of social housing builds.

These are some of the characteristics that mark so-called solutions to help solve Ireland’s housing crisis that has left ordinary families in a state of stasis, in poverty, and in many cases, without a roof over their heads.

Families without homes are being treated like second class citizens, according to frontline agencies. 

There are exceptional amounts of money going into government promises to solve the housing crisis but little sign of relief for those renting, buying or relying on state support for a home to live in. It is a national shame.

Property problems have plagued this country and its cities for years. The property boom helped bust the entire nation. And still, years later, we have yet to formally regulate and allow families the courtesy of normal lives under a roof.

A new generation now look hopelessly on (many have no choice but to leave their communities or areas) at this tragedy. 

And it is a tragedy that people face massive rents and therefor cannot save for a home and in worse situations are priced out of the rental market and so become homeless.

The vicious housing crisis circle will only profit and benefit those who have no interest in a modern, properly working society, namely ruthless landlords, funds and builders. 

The rest of the country is at the mercy of an uncontrollable market that is out of control once again.

A determined Simon Coveney has vowed to fight this crisis head on and plans to try to fix the broken housing and rental sectors.

The Housing Minister, has set an number of ambitious targets, these include:

  • Putting an end to the use of emergency accommodation such as hotels for homeless families by the end of June
  • Doubling the number of new home builds to 25,000 by 2021
  • Limiting rent increases by setting a cap of 4% for annual rate hikes
  • Making up for years of funding gaps for social housing

These are grand visions, backed by specific deadlines and targets, and overseen by his officials in the Department of Housing. In many cases, it is too early to say though if the plans are working.

Many of the multi-annual plans are only unfolding or beginning. Rents were only capped for Dublin and Cork in December and number of other areas in January. Rates have rocketed elsewhere since.

So-called ‘rapid builds’, to give immediate solutions for the homeless, have only been completed in Poppintree, Ballymun. Just 22 units have been completed, despite proposals for hundreds across Dublin and elsewhere.

Equally, the rate of social housing completion is slow. Only 652 new social housing units went up last year. 

Two thirds of the ‘solutions’ delivered for social housing came through housing assistance payments.

Critics would say Coveney is missing his mark. Activists on the ground, including housing agencies, say any results will take a while. 

Nonetheless, the Programme for Government specifically stipulates that “the actions of the new partnership Government will work to end the housing shortage and homelessness crisis”.

You would hope it does, especially with the likes of some €935m in Government funds going into housing last year.

Critics and agencies agree that local authorities could do more. Councils must inspect more rental properties, speed up social housing builds and could use more vacant stock to help the sector.

In fact, many agree the existing stock of 200,000 empty homes nationwide should be more heavily focused on by officials instead of the push to construct new units.

Mr Coveney did publish the promised action plan for housing within 100 days of taking office. But is it working? It could be argued it is too early to say. 

But we are certainly experiencing a savage and damaging housing crisis which is forcing families out of communities and has already seen many lose the chances to own their own homes.

Renters are in desperate places, trapped without any rights or unable to pay huge rates. The Dublin Tenants Association, set up two years ago, has been inundated with complaints.

Member and spokesman Mick Byrne told the Irish Examiner that landlords in rent cap areas are wrongly hiking up rates.

But tenants fear being evicted and won’t bring challenges to the the residential tenancies board.

“There is weak regulation and excess demand. It is a disaster. Now people are being treated like second class citizens. There is a strong culture of non-compliance among landlords.

“They are applying invalid rent increases, entering properties unannounced and there are no minimum standards. There is a systematic, unregulated black hole at the centre of the rental market.”

Equally, housing charity Threshold states families have been priced out of the rental sector, particularly in Dublin, in the last two years.

The supply of new social housing, says Threshold CEO John Mark, is the key to rebuilding Ireland.

The quality of housing stock is equally worrying, says the charity CEO. Mr Mark says standards in the private housing sector could be improved by having a rating, similar to the BER.

Clearly there is still a lot to be done. And Simon Coveney’s period of grace as the minister charged with fixing the housing sector is coming to an end.

Families need relief. And soon.

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