Coveney must act on recommendations

THE ink was barely dry on the special Oireachtas committee report on how the Government should set about resolving the housing and homelessness crisis when doubts were being raised about whether the more radical recommendations of this 160-page document would see the light of day. 

One member, Ruth Coppinger, said it does not go far enough to sort out social housing, and has written a minority report.

When the far-reaching main document finally landed on the desk of Housing Minister Simon Coveney, it brought home the sheer enormity of the challenge he faces in preparing a workable policy containing realistic ways of dealing with this national crisis which has dealt Irish society a hammer blow, leaving tens of thousands of families in dread of being evicted and thrown onto the streets because they cannot afford to keep up mortgage payments or are unable to meet soaring rent demands.

As if Mr Coveney did not have already enough on his plate with the Irish Water shambles, he also faces protests over the waste disposal cost controversy and was yesterday meeting private operators amid a blizzard of criticism about looming increases in standing charges for bin collections, a problem largely of his own making. This could further dent his ambition to lead Fine Gael. Yet, if he delivers on housing, it would increase his chances of succeeding Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Among the 70 recommendations in the housing report, the emergency committee wants the Government to immediately halt all home repossession by the banks and a moratorium introduced until mortgage solutions for borrowers are put in place by government. This initiative was welcomed by the Peter McVerry Trust as being “hugely significant”. It is not clear, however, how or if this can done, especially in view of the fact that banks have thumbed their noses at efforts to get them to call off the dogs. Further proposals of protection for tenants include a ban on the sale of properties as a grounds for eviction, except in exceptional circumstances.

The report also seeks an increase in rent supplement, the setting up of a housing procurement agency, and proposes an off-balance-sheet method of increasing investment in social housing with the aim of delivering 50,000 social housing units within five years through buying properties, refurbishing, or new builds. The idea of linking rent reviews to the consumer price index on the basis of a yearly review makes a lot of sense as it would give both tenant and property owner a measure of certainty. Another positive reform would be to change the rules governing Nama.

Adopting a minority position, Ms Coppinger argues the social housing programme of the main report would take 15 years to clear the backlog of the national housing list, a claim other members reject. The committee is united in warning Mr Coveney it wants swift action and will closely monitor the speed at which he implements the recommendations.

The burning question is: How much of this report will be stitched into the Government’s forthcoming housing strategy? It is imperative that it does not end up gathering dust on a shelf in Mr Coveney’s office.


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