Promising start for Coveney - Housing crisis

IN a housing crisis, what people really need is a roof over their heads.

Whether or not families and individuals desperately in need of a home believe the government plan to be unveiled today by Housing Minister Simon Coveney can achieve that fundamental need speedily and effectively will become a matter of intense social and political debate over the long months of Dáil holidays.

Among the main planks of the plan are specific schemes to tackle the social housing deficit and homelessness by rapidly building thousands of energy efficient, real houses with a 60-year lifespan rather than modular units.

In another innovative initiative, the Housing Agency will be provided with a recyclable fund of €70m to buy houses from banks and similar institutions and sell them on to people who need homes.

In one way or another, housing has been a defining issue for the Republic and the current crisis is more than 10 years in the making. The unplanned and unfettered building of vast ghost estates helped bring the economy and the country to its knees under a reckless Fianna Fáil government while the recent administration of Fine Gael and Labour took their collective eye off the ball, so to speak, turning a blind one towards the gathering storm clouds.

The country is in dire need of a building programme capable of delivering more than 5,000 social houses a year over the coming years. Ideally, the document which the minister delivers today should be a means of delivering at that rate in a mix involving fast-track planning for large-scale developments and a special “use it or lose it” infrastructure fund aimed at prodding local authorities into action. Wearing a three-cornered hat as minister for planning and local government in addition to housing, he is well placed to wield a carrot and stick approach in tackling the housing crisis.

Arguably, as the minister with the second most difficult portfolio next to that of health, Mr Coveney’s hopes of gaining the leadership of Fine Gael may well turn on what level of success or otherwise he has in delivering the broad array of housing that the country urgently needs. Effectively, he is betting his political career on solving the housing emergency. Roughly speaking, he is banking on a timescale of two or three years in which to do it as pundits predict the minority government should survive that long, barring major hiccups. It depends also on the fortunes of Fianna Fáil — especially their popularity in the opinion polls — as to whether or not that party decides to bring down the Government prematurely.

Meanwhile, local authority waiting lists grow longer by the day while the rental sector is being taken over by so-called vulture fund investors which have put tenants onto the street because they could not afford to buy or pay a higher rent. The plight of children in families confined to a single hotel room is an indictment of society. As is the sight of homeless people living rough on the streets of our cities.

As today’s page one story shows, Mr Coveney has made a promising start.

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