AMBITIOUS, costly, far reaching, and career-making are adjectives that come to mind on seeing in its entirety the Government’s action plan for tackling Ireland’s housing crisis.
The product of an unprecedented minority administration which is reliant on implementing a new brand of politics, it far surpasses in both vision and scope any previous attempt at drawing up such a plan.
Reflecting the long hours of work put into this project by Housing Minister Simon Coveney, it is based on a complex approach to resolving the crisis through a mix of different ways to provide people in need of housing with 25,000 new homes each year up to 2021. Reflecting the sheer scale of the current problem, a staggering sum of €5.35 billion will be injected into building social housing over the next six years, representing an extra €2.2bn on previous estimates of what was needed to address the plight of homeless people.
The use of the term that houses will be “provided” is interesting, especially if it implies — as Richard Boyd Barrett of the Anti Austerity Alliance - People Before Profit, claims it does — an ideological decision by the Government to rely on the private market rather than getting local authorities to build houses. With the national waiting list for houses now over the 100,000 mark, it makes sense to give the job to the most efficient builders. It suggests, however, that in contrast with an era when the State built thousands of houses through the local authorities, that policy has now been abandoned by starving councils of the necessary funding and by implication of power by a highly centralised government which favors a policy of giving the work to the private rather than the public sector which has largely been dismantled.
Be that as it may, in addition to providing 25,000 new homes under its plan to tackle the general housing crisis, the Rapid Build target will be trebled so as to provide high quality homes for homeless people. Vacant properties will also be utilised, according to Mr Coveney. Stressing the Government’s determination to transform the State’s response to the homeless by supplying nutritional and dietary initiatives for families living in short-term accommodation, he promised to treble to €6 million the budget for dealing with their health issues. That is a particularly welcome commitment.
As to the provision of 47,000 units for social housing, it is essential to avoid creating ghettoes by planning for mixed developments of both social and private housing using publicly-owned land banks around the main cities where demand for new housing is greatest. But besides the added advantage of creating more diverse and vibrant communities while addressing the stigma that goes with social housing, in its new found ardor to tackle the housing crisis, the government must be seen to guard against selling off publicly-owned land to private companies for a pittance.
Significantly, the plan has been welcomed by the Peter McVerry Trust which approved of its cross-government element rather than leaving it to one department. In a welcome move the country’s credit unions said they were “cheque ready” to provide money for building. Good news indeed.
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