Social obligations: Let’s ensure this is the last housing crisis

The announcement yesterday that a €100m scheme will provide more than 1,300 houses in Cork is welcome. The announcement must, however, also provoke a sigh of relief.

A rich country such as this, and one that purports to have a social conscience, should not have a housing shortage like the one eating at the very heart of this society for the last number of years.

That the crisis escalated despite warning after warning, all vindicated, points to an unattractive deafness at government level and a mé féin society too tolerant of life-defining social failure.

The initiative will go some way to resolving the issue, one that is symbolic of the growing inequality challenging all democracies, but we all know much more needs to be done and done quickly. The psychological challenge, ultimately a political one, is daunting but it must be faced.

The Fianna Fáil decision to walk away from social house was wrong and socially destructive. There can be no argument, the evidence is all too painful to see. This responsibility cannot be shirked again.

The Peter McVerry Trust calculated that there were 7,148 homeless people in Ireland just before Christmas. This shameful statistic does not include those living in unacceptable circumstances — families in hotels uncertain where they might sleep next week.

Young families unable to save a deposit for a home because they are caught in the rental sector need help too. Their plight proves we cannot rely on the market to deliver on social obligations.

However, the market was involved in yesterday’s announcement through the EU’s Competitive Dialogue Procedure which brought developers, landowners and builders together. This kind of partnership is entirely welcome and underlines what an important force for good EU programmes have become.

This a two-way street, though. Society, if it provides a functioning system of decent social housing, should not be shy about imposing a new air of realism around what prospective tenants might expect or dictate.

Recent revelations from Cork County Council that people on the housing list rejected offers of homes because there was not enough room in the garden for a children’s trampoline or that a sea view might provoke sea sickness are unacceptable and should be treated as such, preferably with a take-it-or-lose-it ultimatum.

In recent days, we have indulged our by now traditional response to institutional failure — the Government has called a tribunal of inquiry.

If we could bear the idea of another one, surely it would make sense to establish one on our housing crisis to try to understand what caused it to ensure we never face another.

All involved — landowners, developers, financiers, planners, transport and infrastructure authorities, environmentalists, and more — should be involved to try to ensure that we never again get to the point where we need to announce a €100m emergency package to house citizens of this Republic.

We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome, change is needed in how we plan housing. The failures of the past and the demographics of the future add urgency to that social obligation, one we should be proud to fulfil.

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